War in Ukraine: Satan 2 missiles, tactical warheads... how big is Russia's nuclear arsenal?

War in Ukraine: Satan 2 missiles, tactical warheads… how big is Russia’s nuclear arsenal?

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The partial mobilization initiated by Russia and the referendums on the annexation of the territories occupied by the Russian army raise fears of a risk of escalation, which could go as far as an atomic conflict. But what is the Russian arsenal in terms of nuclear fire?

The risk of nuclear escalation grew after Vladimir Putin’s announcements on the partial mobilization of Russian forces and the referendums on the annexation of territories occupied by Kremlin troops. But what is the reality of the composition of the Russian arsenal?

The largest arsenal in the world

According The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientistsa journal whose directors also manage the Doomsday clock, Russia is said to have 4,477 usable nuclear warheads, along with another 1,500 that are supposed to be dismantled soon, but which are currently intact, bringing the number to around 6,000 heads. nuclear.

About 1,588 of those nuclear warheads would be strategic warheads deployed by early 2022, including 812 on land-based ballistic missiles, 576 on submarine missiles, and about 200 on bombers. These figures logically had to evolve with the war in Ukraine and Russian threats to use “all means” to prevent an act on Russian territory, symbolizing the willingness to use nuclear weapons in the event of a threat.

These estimates are accepted as realistic: Lukas Aubin, associate researcher at IRIS and author of Geopolitics of Russia, questioned by La Dépêche, gave the recent figure of “6,500 warheads, against 6,185 for the United States and 300 for France”. Russia is therefore the world’s leading nuclear power in terms of the number of warheads.

Possible military use

These many strategic warheads would not target the battlefield, unlike tactical nuclear warheads. Lukas Aubin reports, however, that “since 2011, Vladimir Putin has authorized the use of small nuclear warheads on the battlefield”, in particular mobilized in 2014: “Some warheads had been deployed on Russian ships in the context of the annexation of Crimea, according to Vladimir Putin”.

And the risk of their use is real: “Russian nuclear doctrine clearly stipulates that it is authorized to use tactical nuclear strikes in the event of an attack on the territorial integrity of the country”, recalls Lukas Aubin. Nuclear warheads could therefore be used on the battlefield following a Ukrainian attack against the territories occupied by the Russian army, if these were to be annexed, although this hypothesis supposes a sharp escalation of the conflict.

“Announcement effects” that play on the imagination

Lukas Aubin, however, warns against these Russian “announcement effects”: “Weapons like the RS-28 Sarmat missiles, nicknamed Satan 2 [missile longue portée récemment dévoilé par Moscou], are used to magnify Russian power in the collective imagination. These weapons are impressive, but less effective than others, such as drones, which are more practical.”

If the Russian nuclear arsenal is substantial, we must therefore keep a cool head in the face of these proclamations which aim above all to frighten. “The Russian objective worked, since many considered the Russian army to be the second in the world before the Ukrainian invasion, and since Vladimir Putin’s threats of September 21, everyone seems distraught, whereas he had held the same words during the first week of the invasion”.

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