What are Russian Nuclear Weapons?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2019
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Russian nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons built or obtained by Russia and held in Russian military facilities. Depending on which estimate one believes, Russia has either the largest nuclear stockpile in the world, or one of the largest, possessing somewhere between 3,000 and over 5,000 nuclear warheads which could potentially be deployed along with nuclear materials and tactical weapons. There are a number of concerns specific to Russia's nuclear program which make it a topic of global interest.

Along with many other nations, Russia first began exploring nuclear weapons in the Second World War, successfully testing its first bomb in 1949. Russia's successful development and test of the bomb added gas to the fire of nuclear weapons proliferation, with nations like the United States responding by stepping up the pace of their own weapons program. Fears of nuclear war began to be raised, leading to the development of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Russia ratified in 1968.

Russia is one of the few governments allowed to maintain nuclear weapons under the treaty, although, like other signatories, Russia is committed to nonproliferation, working to reduce the number of such weapons it has and focusing on peaceful applications of nuclear energy. The number of Russian nuclear weapons has declined radically from the peak numbers in the 20th century.


With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian nuclear weapons became a cause for concern as global governments worried that political instability might lead to missing warheads, appropriated material, and other security issues. Former Soviet states retain nuclear materials while in Russia itself, Russian nuclear weapons and nuclear materials are not always ideally secured. In addition to posing a security threat to Russia, this could also potentially become a global issue if these materials fell into the wrong hands such as terrorist organizations.

Under Russian military doctrine, Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons if it feels it is necessary to address a threat to Russia or one of Russia's allies. The technology behind Russian nuclear weapons is quite varied, and this doctrine would seem to indicate that Russia has not ruled out the possibility of a limited nuclear war in the interests of self defense or defense of an ally. Governments and organizations concerned about the potential political, social, and literal fallout of nuclear war have worked to minimize the possibility of an event in which Russia might feel pressured to use its nuclear arsenal.


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