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Last updated: March, 2016

The collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 left the Russian Federation in possession of the vast majority of the USSR's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) complex. Over the past two decades, Russia has implemented arms control agreements and participated in threat reduction programs that have dismantled and downsized substantial parts of its arsenals and made inventory numbers more transparent. At present, Russia is modernizing and recapitalizing its entire arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Although the retirement of aging Soviet-era capabilities provides much of the impetus for these efforts, Russia also views modernization as a means to counteract the conventional superiority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as a way to retain its status as a major military power. Given its extensive WMD capabilities, Russia's active participation in nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament efforts is a prerequisite to their global success.


The Soviet nuclear weapons program began during World War II and culminated in a successful nuclear test in 1949. Russia, as the successor of the Soviet Union, is a nuclear weapon state party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and one of the three NPT depository states. [1] According to estimates by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), by 1991 the Soviet Union had approximately 35,000 weapons in its stockpile, down from a peak in 1986 of approximately 45,000. [2]

Under the provisions of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, also known as the Moscow Treaty), and the New START Treaty that entered into force in 2011, Russia and the United States are limited to 1,550 strategic warheads by 2018. According to the latest biannual exchange of data required under the New START Treaty Russia has 1,643 warheads on 528 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and warheads designated for- heavy bombers. [3] However, Moscow's current total stockpile of deployed and nondeployed strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, including those awaiting dismantlement is approximately 8,000 warheads. [4]

Russia inherited a massive nuclear weapons production complex and large stocks of weapons-grade fissile material after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is estimated that Russia currently has 695 ± 120 metric tons of weapons grade-equivalent highly enriched uranium (HEU) and approximately 128 ± 8 tons metric tons of military-use plutonium. [5] In the early 1990s, the United States and Russia partnered through the Cooperative Threat Reduction (Nunn-Lugar) Program to secure Russian stockpiles of HEU and plutonium as well as to dismantle Soviet-era delivery systems and chemical weapons. In June 2013, Moscow allowed the agreement covering these activities to expire. Some joint programs on nuclear security did continue under a separate accord. Following increased hostilities over the crisis in Ukraine, however, Washington suspended several projects in April 2014 relating to cooperation on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. [6] Later that year Moscow announced it would no longer accept U.S. assistance to secure stockpiles of nuclear material on Russian territory, effectively terminating the last remaining remnants of the well-known Nunn-Lugar program. [7]


The Soviet Union ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in 1975 and was one of the treaty's three depository states. [8] However, the Soviet Union violated the terms of the BTWC by secretly operating a large offensive BW program until the USSR's dissolution in 1991. Within the BW program, the USSR weaponized the causative agents of anthrax, glanders, Marburg fever, plague, Q fever, smallpox, tularemia, and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. [9] In wartime, formulated agents would have been loaded into a variety of delivery systems, including aerial bombs and ballistic missile warheads. [10] Soviet BW scientists also researched, developed, and produced anti-crop and anti-livestock agents. [11]

Additionally, the USSR established an anti-plague system, the primary objective of which was to control endemic disease and prevent the import of exotic pathogens that could threaten crops, animals, and humans. In the late 1960s, the system was also tasked with defending the USSR against biological attacks. [12] This anti-plague system continues to operate in Russia today.

Although the full extent of the former Soviet biological weapons program is unknown, facilities suitable for offensive biological weapons production likely remain in Russia. [13] Russia continues to engage in dual-use biological research activities, but there is no indication that these activities are inconsistent with its BTWC obligations. However, it remains unclear whether Russia has fulfilled its obligations under Article I of the BTWC. [14] Some nonproliferation experts also worry that scientists formerly associated with the Soviet biological warfare program could assist foreign countries with clandestine BW programs. [15]


During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed the world's largest arsenal of chemical weapons, including artillery shells, bombs, and missiles that contained choking agents (phosgene); nerve-agents (sarin, soman, and VX); and blister agents (mustard, Lewisite, and mustard-lewisite mixture). [16] There have been allegations that the Soviet Union developed a new class of nerve agents (Novichok), estimated to be between 5 and10 times more toxic than VX. [17]

Russia inherited the declared Soviet stockpile of 40,000 metric tons of CW munitions and agents stored in bulk. [18] In November 1997 Russia ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but financial and other difficulties have been an impediment to the timely destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile. Moscow announced in January 2015 that it had destroyed over 84% of its stockpile – nearly 34,000 of 40,000 metric tons – and anticipates adequate financing for complete destruction by December 2020. [19]


Russia has one of the most robust and advanced missile programs in the world, and maintains the capability to produce highly sophisticated liquid- and solid-propelled missiles of all ranges. Russia is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC).

According to the latest New START data exchange, Russia deploys its 1,643 warheads on 528 strategic nuclear delivery systems. [20] Soviet legacy missile systems comprise 72% of the Russian missile arsenal. Current military modernization plans call to reduce that number to 60% by 2016 and 2% by 2021. [21] For the land based leg of the nuclear triad Russia currently only produces the RS-24 Yars (NATO: SS-29) road mobile ICBM. A new road mobile ICBM, the RS-26 Rubezh colloquially known as the "Missile Defense Killer," is currently being developed. [22] The new road mobile ICBM will reportedly enter into combat duty in 2016. [23] The RS-26 has raised concerns within the United States and among its NATO allies given the fact Russia has flight tested the missile to ranges within those proscribed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. [24] However, Russia did test the RS-26 beyond INF-prohibited ranges in May 2012, qualifying the missile as an ICBM counted under New START and therefore not subject to the INF. [25] In 2009, plans were announced to develop a new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM to replace current silo-based ICBMs. [26] The missile is scheduled to be produced as early as 2018 and put into service by 2019; however, this timeline is not likely to be feasible. [27]

For its sea-based deterrent Russia is developing the R-30 Bulava (NATO:SS-NX-30), a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to be deployed on the new Borey-class submarines. As of January 2015, three Borey-class SSBNs have entered into service with plans to add an additional five submarines. [28] Although the Bulava received approval to enter active service in June 2012, numerous technical problems have continued to plague the system. [29] Following a failed test-launch in September 2013, the Russian defense ministry ordered an additional five flight-tests of the Bulava system. [30] The first two of these tests conducted in September and October 2014 were reportedly successful. [31]

The delivery platform for Russia's air-based deterrent is the Kh-55 (NATO: AS-15 'Kent') air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), deployed on Tu-95MS (Bear H) and Tu-160 (Blackjack) bombers. Russia has been developing a new ALCM, the Kh-102, for a number of years, but the missile has not yet been deployed. [32] Russia has designed a new long-range bomber that will eventually take over the roles of the Tu-95MS, the Tu-160 and the Tu-22 non-strategic bomber, currently known as PAK-DA (future long-range aircraft). [33]

Russia has also been developing a controversial ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), reportedly named the R-500. [34] In its annual Compliance Report released in July 2014, the U.S. State Department determined Russia had tested a GLCM in violation of the INF Treaty, which obligates the United States and Russia "not to possess, produce, or flight-test" missiles with maximum ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. [35] Although U.S. officials had reportedly raised the issue privately with Moscow in May 2013, the Obama administration apparently hopes going public with its concerns will pressure Russia back into compliance. [36]

[1] The United States and the United Kingdom are the other two NPT depository states.
[2] Robert S. Norris and Thomas B. Cochran, U.S.-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945-1996 (Washington, DC: National Resources Defense Council, 1997), p. 43.
[3] U.S. Department of States, "New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, January 1, 2015,
[4] Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Russian nuclear forces, 2014," Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, March 3, 2014,, p. 77.
[5] "Global Fissile Material Report 2013," International Panel on Fissile Materials, January 2012,, pp. 10-11, 20.
[6] David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, "U.S.-Russia Nuclear Deal Stalls as Tensions over Ukraine Rise," The New York Times, August 2, 2014,
[7] Bryan Bender, "Russia ends US nuclear security alliance," The Boston Globe, January 19, 2015,
[8] Jeanne Guillemin, Biological Weapons (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. 132.
[9] Milton Leitenberg and Raymond A. Zilinskas, with Jens H. Kuhn, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 288, 631-678.
[10] Christopher J. Davis, "Nuclear Blindness: An Overview of the Biological Weapons Programs of the Former Soviet Union and Iraq," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 1999,
[11] Gulbarshyn Bozheyeva, Yerlan Kunakbayev and Dastan Yeleukenov, "Former Soviet Biological Weapons Facilities in Kazakhstan: Past, Present, and Future," CNS Occasional Paper, No. 1, June 1999, p. 11.
[12] Sergei Popov and Marina Voronova, "Russian Bioweapons: Still the Best-Kept Secret?" The Nonproliferation Review, Fall-Winter 2004, p. 192.
[13] "Stated Government Policy," Jane's CBRN Assessments, July 27, 2009,
[14] "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," U.S. Department of State, July 2014, p. 16.
[15] Judith Miller and William J. Broad, "Iranians, Bioweapons in Mind, Lure Needy Ex-Soviet Scientists," New York Times, December 8, 1998,; and Anthony H. Cordesman with Adam Adam C. Seitz, "Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction: Biological Weapons Program," Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 28, 2008, p. 14.
[16] "Key Facts, Chemical, Russian Federation," Jane's CBRN Assessments, September 8, 2009,
[17] David E. Hoffman, The Dead Hand (New York: Doubleday, 2009), p. 310.
[18] "Key Facts, Chemical, Russian Federation," Jane's CBRN Assessments, September 8, 2009,
[19] "Russia to complete chemical weapons destruction at 4 of 5 facilities by end of 2015," TASS Russian News Agency, January 30, 2015,; “Россия уничтожила три четверти своего химического оружия” "Россия уничтожила 60,4 процента запасов химического оружия" [Russia destroyed three quarters of its chemical weapons ], Lenta, September 9, 2013,
[20] U.S. Department of States, "New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms," Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, January 1, 2015,
[21] "Russian Strategic Rocket Forces to be Almost Fully Re-Armed by 2021 - Commander," Interfax: Russia & CIS Defense Industry Weekly, December 23, 2011.
[22] "Russia Tests New 'Missile Defense Killer', Ria Novosti, June 7, 2013,; Jerry Davydov and Bryan Lee, "Russia Nuclear Rearmament: Policy Shift or Business as Usual?" Nuclear Threat Initiative, December 18, 2013.
[23] Pavel Podvig, "RS-26 deployment postponed until 2016," Russian Nuclear Forces, December 25, 2014,
[24] Jeffrey Lewis, "An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name," Foreign Policy, April 25, 2014,
[25] Jeffrey Lewis, "An Intercontinental Ballistic Missile by any Other Name," Foreign Policy, April 25, 2014,
[26] Pavel Podvig, "New heavy ICBM expected to be ready in 2019," Russian Nuclear Forces, December 14, 2012,
[27] Pavel Podvig, "New heavy ICBM expected to be ready in 2019," Russian Nuclear Forces, December 14, 2012,
[28] Pavel Podvig, "Strategic fleet," Russian Nuclear Forces, February 25, 2015,
[29] "Russia's Bulava Carrying Sub to Enter Service by June," RIA Novosti, January 20, 2012,; "Russia's Bulava Missile Hits Test Target," Global Security Newswire, October 29, 2010,
[30] "Russia's Troubled Bulava Missiles Returned to Maker – Official," Sputnik News, September 16, 2013; Hans Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, "Russian nuclear forces, 2014," Bulletin of Atomic Scientist, March 3, 2014, p. 79.
[31] Pavel Podvig, "Bulava launch from Alexander Navskiy," Russian Nuclear Forces, November 28, 2014,
[32] Robert S. Norris and Hans Kristensen, "Russia Nuclear Forces, 2010," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 66, Number 1, January/February 2010, p. 78.
[33] First flight prototype of new strategic bomber will appear by 2017 - Air Force commander," Interfax: Russia & CIS Defense Industry Weekly, December 24, 2012; "Russian Air Force Approves New Bomber Design – Commander," RIA Novosti, April 11, 2013,
[34] Hans M. Kristensen, "Russia Declared In Violation of INF Treaty: New Cruise Missile May Be Deploying," FAS Strategic Security Blog, July 30, 2014.
[35] "Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," U.S. State Department, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, July 2014.
[36] Michael R. Gordon, "U.S. Says Russia Tested Cruise Missile, Violating Treaty," The New York Times, July 28, 2014,

Get the Facts on Russia
  • 8,500 to 10,000 nuclear warheads, including approximately 3,000 awaiting dismantlement
  • Pursued a covert biological weapons program during the Soviet era while a state party to the BTWC
  • Scheduled to complete destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile by December 2020

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2016.