The Russian Nuclear Threat

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The U.S. mainstream view of Russia has changed quite a bit in the last twenty years, particularly in the last five. We have moved from the fantasy that there was no threat from Russia after the demise of the Soviet Union to a recognition of a serious Russian threat to the U.S. and its allies, including a nuclear threat in the last two years of the Obama administration and the Trump administration. However, characterizing the relationship between the U.S. and Russia as “competition” as it now appears in U.S. Government documents[1], does not go far enough. Lockheed and Boeing compete; Russia threatens preemptive nuclear attack. It is unilaterally trying to create a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states in the classic 19th Century sense while building the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.  There is no competition here but rather a serious threat from Russia.

Russia and Nuclear Weapons

Putin’s economic policies are a disaster for Russia; yet he continues to modernize and expand Russia’s military and nuclear capabilities. In January 2017, Russian Defense Minister General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated that development of the strategic nuclear force was Russia’s first priority, noting that Russia will “…continue a massive program of nuclear rearmament, deploying modern ICBMs on land and sea, [and] modernizing the strategic bomber force.”[2] The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report agrees stating, “In addition to modernizing ‘legacy’ Soviet nuclear systems, Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers. These efforts include multiple upgrades for every leg of the Russian nuclear triad of strategic bombers, sea-based missiles, and land-based missiles. Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle, and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.”[3] Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and National Nuclear Security Administration Director Lisa Gordon-Hagerty in April 2019 told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “Russia and China are investing massive resources into upgrading and expanding their nuclear arsenals, all at a time when they seek to challenge U.S. interests and unravel U.S. alliances around the world.”[4]

Russia’s New Nuclear Superweapons

Russia’s only real claim to be a great power is its nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Russia has officially announced over 20 new or modernized strategic nuclear systems.[5] Putin routinely brandishes his nuclear superweapons because he believes Russia gets political benefits from nuclear threats. In his March 2018 State of the Nation address, Putin bragged about five new Russian nuclear systems. Putin’s superweapons include:[6]

  • The new Sarmat heavy ICBM whose capabilities Putin said “are much higher” than the Cold War Soviet SS-18 ICBM because it will carry “a broad range of powerful nuclear warheads” and the Sarmat “has practically no range restrictions.”[7] The Sarmat is reported in the Russian state media as capable of carrying 10 warheads of 800-kilotons or 15 warheads of 350-kilotons.[8] It will be their main counterforce weapon. In light of reported Russian development of variable yield missile warheads,[9] it is also likely to have a low-yield option.
  • The Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead, which Putin said had “almost an unlimited range…” This is a very dangerous weapons system from a testing safety standpoint because every flight will end in a radiation release.
  • An ultra-fast and deep-diving nuclear-powered drone submarine called the Poseidon which Putin said “would carry massive nuclear ordnance.” This weapon has similar safety problems as the nuclear-powered cruise missile. Worse, it is a weapon of genocide. If it were used, there would be no way to limit its damage. It is reported in the Russian press to carry a 100-megaton weapon and possibly a cobalt bomb, a “doomsday” weapon never built during the Cold War.[10] A single submarine armed with these weapons would release more fallout than the entire U.S. strategic force even if we used it in the most destructive manner.[11] TASS reports it will be deployed during the current procurement plan which goes until 2027.[12]
  • A “high-precision hypersonic aircraft missile system,” the Kinzhal, which is capable of “delivering nuclear and conventional warheads in a range of over 2,000-km,” and which is now operational. The Chief of the Russian Aerospace Force called it an “aeroballistic missile.”[13] Deputy Russian Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that ten Kinzhals are operational on the Mig-31 fighters and TASS, the main official Russian news agency, reports that an “aeroballistic missile," obviously the Kinzhal, will be carried by the Su-34 long-range strike fighter.[14] State-run Sputnik News says the Backfire bomber can carry four Kinzhal missiles. [15] TASS reports that a smaller version of this missile will be carried by the Su-57.[16]
  • The Avangard nuclear hypersonic boost glide vehicle which Putin characterizes as, "A real technological breakthrough" which he said, "has been successfully tested." TASS says it has a two-megaton warhead.[17] In June 2018, President Putin said it was in serial production.[18] The Russians have said that it will be operational in 2019.[19]

In his February 2019 State of the Nation address to the Duma, President Putin “promoted” the new Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic missile into the superweapon category.[20]

These are real programs. According to STRATCOM Commander General John Hyten, “…you should believe Vladimir Putin about everything he said he’s working on.”[21]  Based on open sources it appears that four of these systems are nuclear armed and two are nuclear capable.[22]

In April 2019, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said that these weapons were not subject to the New START Treaty.[23] It is clear that the New START Treaty does not restrain four of the six and the fifth is only subject to the Treaty because it uses an ICBM as a booster. In March 2019, Antonov said Russia would not agree to changes to the New START Treaty to bring these weapons into it.[24]  Anyone who thinks the New START Treaty protects us against Putin’s nuclear threat is living in a fantasy world.

Current Status of Russian Nuclear Modernization

On December 24, 2018, Russian Defense Minister General of the Army Sergey Sergei Shoigu said Russia had achieved “an unprecedented level of equipment with modern weapons,” surpassing all other nations.[25] He stated that 1) "The modernity level of the Strategic Nuclear Forces has reached 82%..."; 2) the new Sarmat heavy ICBM had been successfully tested in a “pop-up test”; 3) in 2019, “the first missile regiment [will be] equipped…with [the] Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle” and would become operational; 4) in 2019, a total of 31 Yars and Avangard nuclear ICBMs would be put on “combat duty”; 5) in 2019, the first Borey A ballistic missile submarine would become operational; 6) four Tu-95 nuclear-capable bombers would be modernized; and 7) Russia had conducted a salvo launch of 12 nuclear capable Kh-101 cruise missiles from a Tu-160 heavy bomber.[26] This adds up to the modernization in a single year of about 10 percent of the declared Russian strategic nuclear force under the New START Treaty.[27] TASS also reported that the new version of the Tu-160 (the Tu-160M2), which will add 500 additional deployed warheads to the Russian strategic nuclear force, is now being manufactured.[28]

Thanks to the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report we now have official confirmation of much of what Russia says it was doing and disclosure of some things that the Russians do not talk about presumably because they involve arms control violations. It states, “While Russia initially followed America’s lead and made similarly sharp reductions in its strategic nuclear forces, it retained large numbers of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Today, Russia is modernizing these weapons as well as its other strategic systems. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success. These developments, coupled with Russia’s seizure of Crimea and nuclear threats against our allies, mark Moscow’s decided return to Great Power competition.”[29]

Russian nuclear modernization is literally never-ending. All legs of the Russian Triad are being modernized. When Russia deploys a new system, it starts work on the follow-on. We don’t. We are pursuing a minimum program to maintain a nuclear triad replacing systems only when very old. We are almost a decade away from any new systems actually being deployed.

The Number of Deployed Russian Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Russian New START data are very limited and of little use. Russia’s declared New START numbers are apparently not real and certainly not verifiable because of the Treaty’s many loopholes and limited and ineffective verification provisions.[30] There are inspections but they can’t verify anything because of the lack of attribution rules in the Treaty. (Attribution rules establish both a minimum and maximum number of warheads for each missile type). There is no way to verify the total number of accountable warheads much less the number of actual deployed warheads which is clearly much higher. There is no Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on New START verification because there is no credible way to claim it is verifiable. Then-Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Senator Christopher Bond summed it up during New START ratification: “The Select Committee on Intelligence has been looking at this issue closely over the past several months. As the vice chairman of this committee, I have reviewed the key intelligence on our ability to monitor this treaty and heard from our intelligence professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty’s 1,550 limit on deployed warheads.”[31]

In December 2018, the Commander of the Strategic Missile Force Colonel General Sergei Karakayev stated that “…the nuclear potentials of the sides have [been] reduced more than 66% since the signing of START I.”[32] This is a major departure from the standard Russian position which claimed it had made an 85% reduction.[33] If one uses the late Soviet declared number of over 10,000 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for the calculations,[34] the difference between an 85% reduction and a 66% reduction is almost 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads above the supposed New START Treaty allowed level of 1,550. This is much higher than any previous unclassified Western estimate of currently deployed Russian strategic nuclear warheads. For example, in 2018, Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris estimated that Russia has 2,522 deployed strategic nuclear warheads.[35]

While the New START Treaty warhead limit is not real because of the Treaty’s many loopholes, a force of over 3,300 Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads (a two-to-one and growing Russian advantage in strategic nuclear weapons) is very significant and could impact Putin’s future decisions regarding war or peace. To deploy more than 3,300 strategic nuclear warheads today, it takes more than simple exploitation of the New START Treaty bomber weapon counting rule which counts a bomber load of nuclear weapons as one warhead.[36] The Kristensen and Norris number already does this. A current level of over 3,300 warheads requires a substantial covert force of heavily MIRVed mobile ICBMs and/or cheating on warhead numbers on declared delivery vehicles

There is evidence of a covert Russian mobile ICBM force. In December 2014, Colonel General Karakayev said, “There are currently around 400 missiles [ICBMs] with warheads on combat duty.”[37]  General Karakayev has repeated his claim that Russia has deployed about 400 ICBMs several times.[38]  Yet, Russia’s declared strategic force numbers make it impossible for Russia to have more than about 300 ICBMs legally “with warheads on combat duty.” Interestingly, in 2011, the Russian Space Agency published a request for proposals for eliminating ICBMs including the Kuryer, a late Soviet-era small mobile ICBM.  This missile should have been declared under the START Treaty and the New START Treaty but it was not.[39] This is a violation of the New START Treaty.

Deployed Russian strategic nuclear weapons numbers will almost certainly increase. According to Bill Gertz, “A U.S. intelligence official said Moscow is expanding its nuclear arsenal and is expected to deploy a total force of 8,000 warheads by 2026 along with modernizing deep underground bunkers.”[40]        

There is evidence in the Russian state media that the Backfire bomber is now a non-declared heavy bomber under the New START Treaty which is a violation of the Treaty. If the Backfire has become a heavy bomber, it counts against the New START Treaty limit. This may put Russia above the New START limit of 1,550 accountable warheads, and, hence, in violation of the Treaty. The New START heavy bomber definition (The New START Treaty, Protocol, Part 1, definition 23) states:

The term “heavy bomber” means a bomber of a type, any one of which satisfies either of the following criteria:

(a) Its range is greater than 8000 kilometers; or

(b) It is equipped for long-range [600-km] nuclear ALCMs.

The Backfire bomber is an extremely important system because it is the subject of a very  substantial upgrade (the Tu-22M3M) and will reportedly be operational this year. TASS reports the new NK-32-02 engines to be put on the Backfire are the same engine to be used in the new Tu-160M2 heavy bomber, which Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said will increase its range 1,000-km+ (about 600 miles).[41] The improved version of the Backfire (Tu-223M3), according to noted aviation journalist Alexander Mladenov, has a range of “5,000 nautical miles (10,000-km)….”[42] This would be well beyond the heavy bomber range threshold.

The Backfire reportedly now carries new nuclear-capable cruise missiles that alone would turn it into a heavy bomber under the New START Treaty definition. It carries the new Kh-32 1,000-km range cruise missile, according to TASS.[43] The Kh-32 is described in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report as being nuclear capable.[44] State-run Sputnik News confirms this saying, “…the Kh-32 can carry either conventional or nuclear munitions.”[45] State-run Russia Beyond the Headlines also says its range is 1,000-km and it can be armed “…with a nuclear or conventional 500-kilogram (1,102 lb) warhead and hit targets within a few yards.”[46]

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian Government, reports the new version of the Backfire (Tu-22M3M) can carry the Kh-101 and the Kh-555, both long-range air-launched cruise missiles.[47] The Kh-101 is nuclear capable, according to Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense.[48] The Kh-555 was long reported to be the conventional modification of the Kh-55 (AS-15) nuclear air-launched cruise missile. However, Sputnik News says it is dual capable: “Second, in addition to the nuclear option, the Kh-555 can carry up to 410 kg of conventional munitions.”[49] It also noted that it was five times as accurate as the Kh-55.

Russian Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Russia has thousands of tactical or non-strategic nuclear weapons. According to General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russia is “…developing new nonstrategic nuclear weapons…”[50] Russian press reports indicate that Russia has retained virtually every type of Cold War tactical nuclear weapon capability.[51] The Nuclear Posture Review confirms this: "These include air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, and depth charges for medium-range bombers, tactical bombers, and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines, a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Moscow's antiballistic missile system."[52] The Obama administration stated that Russia had a ten-to-one advantage vis-a-vis the U.S. in non-strategic nuclear weapons (thousands vs. hundreds).[53]

During the Cold War, we had thousands of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe to deter attack. They are now almost completely gone and dismantled.[54] Empowering Putin in this manner increases the risk of war in Europe and Russian nuclear escalation.

Putin’s Nuclear Strategy

As noted Russia expert Dr. Steven Blank has pointed out, “…since 1993 Russia has changed its posture from no first use [of nuclear weapons] to first use, and now to preemption.”[55] Putin personally developed Russia’s year 2000 nuclear strategy which allows for the first use of nuclear weapons in conventional war when he was Secretary of the Russian National Security Council Staff.[56] Like real Soviet nuclear doctrine, as distinct from Soviet declaratory policy, it allowed for first use of nuclear weapons. However, there were differences. Planned Soviet first use was massive and in support of a rapid invasion of Western Europe with little concern over collateral damage. In Russian doctrinal literature, Russian first use of nuclear weapons is limited and designed to produce low collateral damage, but it still risks massive escalation. The effect of this, as NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg stated in March 2018, has been “blurring of the line” between nuclear and conventional warfare which “lowers the threshold for Russia’s use of nuclear weapons.”[57] Senior Russian officials have talked about nuclear pre-emption as far back as 2006.

In 2009, Secretary of the Russian National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev said that Russian nuclear doctrine allows for the first use of nuclear weapons in “regional or even a local” war and noted, “In situations critical to national security, options including a preventative nuclear strike on the aggressor are not excluded.”[58]

In June 2015, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James Winnefeld observed, “Russian military doctrine includes what some have called an ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy—a strategy that purportedly seeks to deescalate a conventional conflict through coercive threats, including limited nuclear use,” a policy they categorized as “playing with fire.”[59] In 2017, then-DIA Director Lt. General Vincent Stewart said Russia has built nuclear de-escalation “…into their operational concept, we’ve seen them exercise that idea…”[60]

In April 2018, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared, “Russia…has invested heavily in new military equipment, modernized their forces, which are exercising more including with nuclear forces, integrating exercises with nuclear capabilities with conventional capabilities…”[61]

In 1999, Colonel General Vladimir Muravyev, Deputy Commander of the Strategic Missile Force, said, “…the deterrent actions of strategic forces…[involve] strikes with both conventional and nuclear warheads with the goal of de-escalating the military conflict,” and Russian forces “…should be capable of conducting ‘surgical’ strikes…using both highly accurate, super-low yield nuclear weapons, as well as conventional ones…”[62]

Russia has reportedly introduced low-yield, precision low-yield and low-collateral damage nuclear weapons in large numbers. A now declassified CIA report from 2000 states, “Moscow’s military doctrine on the use of nuclear weapons has been evolving and probably has served as the justification for the development of very low-yield, high-precision nuclear weapons.”[63] Russian press reports, including the state media, say that low-sub-kiloton yield warheads are now deployed on Russian SLBMs and there are reports of dial-a-yield on the missile warheads on Russian ICBMs.[64] Dr. Philip Karber, President of the Potomac Foundation, has stated that roughly half of Russia’s 5,000 tactical nuclear weapons have been modernized with new sub-kiloton nuclear warheads for air-defense, torpedoes and cruise missiles.[65]

Russian Information Warfare and Nuclear Threats

Russia puts great emphasis on information warfare which is waged on a global basis 24/7. Russia is more or less simultaneously running an arms control and nuclear threat offensive, while not correcting its violations of the INF Treaty and stating that it will not close any of the loopholes in the New START Treaty.[66]

The standard Russian nuclear missile targeting threat, conceived by the Commander of their Strategic Missile Force in 2007, has recently evolved in several ways. Hypersonic missiles are now a part of it. It has moved from targeting missile defense to targeting fictional U.S. ground-launched INF-range nuclear missile deployments in Europe. Even more dangerous is that the new “Gerasimov doctrine”, announced in March 2019 in a major speech, is based on deployment of forces beyond the boundaries of Russia, pre-emption and the threat of nuclear targeting of the U.S. National Command Authority, something that is only done if a nation is fighting an all-out nuclear war.

Between October 24, 2018 and March 2019, the nuclear missile targeting threat was made at least 11 times at the highest levels – by President Putin, by the Chief of the General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, by the Strategic Missile Force Commander Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.[67] This time the initial targeting threat was not made by the Commander of the Strategic Missile Force and repeated by Putin as it was in 2007. In 2018, Putin made the first threat and it was subsequently picked up by the generals.

In December 2018, Colonel General Sergei Karakayev said, “…following deployment of US intermediate missiles in Europe and the ensuing new threats to our security, are undoubtedly taken into account during the planning of the Strategic Missile Force use.”[68] According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, “There are hypersonic warheads, different types of air and underwater autonomous systems, the new heavy missile, which is being developed. Successful test-launches of the Avangard and Kinzhal systems were recently conducted. All this and much more makes up the set of forces and means that reliably neutralize any potential threat on the part of the U.S. and any other direction wherever they come from.”[69]

In his February 2019 State of the Nation address to the Duma, President Putin hinted that the Tsirkon hypersonic missile would be used to launch surprise strikes against the U.S. national command authority (the President, the line of succession, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior military leaders, and the nuclear command and control system).[70] Within days, a retired Russian admiral said that the Tsirkon would be capable of hitting command posts in the U.S. within five minutes from Russian submarines and “Russia’s Vesti Nedeli state TV station published a list of American targets it said the Kremlin could strike with hypersonic nuclear missiles within five minutes if war breaks out.”[71] They were apparently command and control facilities.

In an important March 2019 speech, the Chief of the Russian General Staff General of the Army Valery Gerasimov said  Russia was forced to “plan future delivery of strikes against decision making centers…”[72] This is a very serious threat because Washington is undefended against hypersonic missiles and because of the lack of deep underground bunkers in Washington to protect the national command authority from a surprise nuclear attack. The President has to be removed from the Washington D.C. area before Russian warheads arrive and this means there must be enough warning time to carry out this evacuation. Command centers are only hit with nuclear weapons in the context of an all-out nuclear war.

Russia has been talking about strategic cruise missile submarines since 2011.[73] With dual capable missiles, they would be a circumvention of the New START Treaty since they would not be limited by it. In April 2019, TASS reported that Russia may deploy, after 2027, cruise missile carrying Borei-K submarines.[74] The Borei is Russia’s most modern strategic nuclear missile submarine. A cruise missile-carrying version of the submarine and the nuclear weapons it carries would not be limited by the New START Treaty despite being able to carry large numbers of nuclear cruise missiles. TASS also reported that Russia was developing a multi-role fifth-generation submarine that will carry “Tsirkon hypersonic missiles [which] will be among its strike weapons.”[75]

In the last several months, senior Russian officials threatened a nuclear arms race,[76] gloated about Russia’s new super nuclear weapons,[77] and warned about the end of arms control and a nuclear arms race.[78] Moreover, Russia conducted bomber provocations, including deployment of Tu-160s nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela, with its implied threat of a new Cuban Missile Crisis.[79]

We don’t make such threats against Russia. Indeed, we have never even warned Russia about what might happen to it if it implemented its nuclear threats.

Russian Violations of the INF Treaty

Russia is violating the INF Treaty in a very critical way. It is apparently much more than the SSC-8/9M729 ground-launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles which the U.S. Government has officially determined to be a violation of the INF Treaty. According to Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, “We knew that the INF Treaty was violated long before the United States decided to withdraw. We also knew, and spoke about it many times, that four different types [of missiles banned under the INF Treaty] were already targeted at the Baltic states—they were deployed in Kaliningrad and Russian territory near our borders.”[80]

Regarding the SSC-8/9M729, the evidence of violations of the INF Treaty is so overwhelming that NATO has declared the violation to be a “material breach” of the INF Treaty.[81] Unfortunately, this is not the only reported violation.

According to the Russian press, including the state media, the Russian R-500/9M728 ground-launched cruise missile has a range which violates the INF Treaty.[82] The Russians, in their 2019 demonstration in Moscow of the launchers and missile canisters for the 9M729 and the 9M728, virtually confirmed the R-500/9M728 was an additional violation of the INF Treaty. The Russians said that the 9M729 was an improved version of the 9M728.[83] The 9M729 canister was 8 meters long and the 9M728 canister was only slightly shorter.[84] Thus, the Russian claims that these missiles have a range of under 500-km is an insult to our intelligence. According to Deputy Under Secretary of Defense David Trachtenberg, “Russia has tested this ground-based system well into the ranges covered by the INF Treaty, produced it, and fielded it.”[85] If the 9M729 can fly “well into ranges covered by the INF Treaty”, it is virtually certain that the 9M728 can fly into the INF Treaty prohibited range arena, particularly when one takes into account that the INF accountable range (to fuel exhaustion) would be significantly longer than any likely operational test of the missile.

The Russian Bastion is a deployed supersonic ground-launched coastal defense anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile system using the Oniks (3M55) missile. In July 2016, Interfax, Russia’s main unofficial news agency, reported, “The Bastion coastal defense [cruise missile] system has an operational range of 600 kilometers and can be used against surface ships of varying class and type…”[86] The 2017 National Air and Space Committee Intelligence report stated that the 3M55 missile (also called the P-800 Oniks) was possibly nuclear.[87]

It is not clear what the fourth missile mentioned by Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics is. It might be a legacy Soviet missile or a version of the Iskander-M.

The recently announced Russian ground-launched hypersonic missile programs that are supposed to be operational by 2020 are not a response to U.S. suspension and withdrawal from the INF Treaty as Russia contends. These are clearly programs that have been going on for many, many years.  Most appear to be part of the program that President Putin announced in his infamous March 1, 2018, Duma address, about six months before the announcement of the U.S.’ intent to respond to the Russian INF Treaty violations.[88] The rest appear to be covert programs that would have violated the INF Treaty but that are now being made public, so they can be used as threats.

Similarly, the announced Russian program for a ground-launched version of the Kalibr, also supposed to be deployed by 2020,[89] is apparently an old program. Reports of a ground-launched version of the Kalibr/Club missiles go back to 2012.[90] The suggestion that arms control brings transparency is just opposite of reality involving Russia.


This is not a pretty picture. We have been sleepwalking for the last 25 years and most of that time we were in denial concerning a Russian nuclear threat. We are now beginning to reverse this but much remains to be done. Putin is dangerous. Indeed, Kremlin spokesman Peskov has stated, “I can only say that as a normal man, he [Putin], certainly, can express his negative attitude towards this or that person or process. And so that it makes the blood run cold.”[91]

Even the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review has not done enough in recommending programs to correct the enormous disparity that now exists in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Furthermore, if the American left succeeds in aborting the Triad modernization and sustainment programs, the result could lead to Putin’s first use of nuclear weapons.

Dr. Mark B. Schneider is a Senior Analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy. Before his retirement from the Department of Defense Senior Executive Service, Dr. Schneider served in a number of senior positions within the Office of Secretary of Defense for Policy including Principal Director for Forces Policy, Principal Director for Strategic Defense, Space and Verification Policy, Director for Strategic Arms Control Policy and Representative of the Secretary of Defense to the Nuclear Arms Control Implementation Commissions.  He also served in the senior Foreign Service as a Member of the State Department Policy Planning Staff.


[1] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, (Washington D.C., US, Department of Defense, February 2018), I, available at 2001872886/-1/ -1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTUREREVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.

[2] Pavel Felgenhauer, “Kremlin Learning to Navigate Washington’s New Unpredictability,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Vol. 14. No. 3 (January 19, 2017), available at

[3] Ibid., p. 9.

[4] Bill Gertz, "Navy cybersecurity faulted,” The Washington Free Beacon, April 1, 2019, available at https://m.

[5] Mark B. Schneider, “Russian Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Real Clear Defense, April 28, 2017, available at http:// 11261.html.

[6] “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly,” Kremlin,ru, March 1, 2018, 56957. 

[7] Ibid.

[8] Nikolai Litovkin, “What major weapons Russian military will get in 2018,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, January 19, 2018, available at “Sarmat ICBM: 8 Megatons at Hypersonic Speeds, Arriving 2 Years Ahead of Schedule,” Sputnik News, January 19, 2018, available at

[9] Pavel Felgenhauer, “Bomb Makers Trade Union,” The Moscow Times, March 14, 2002, available at html.

[10] Lynn Berry and Vladimir Isachenkov, “Kremlin-controlled TV airs ‘secret’ plans for nuclear weapon,” Associated Press, November 12, 2015, available at aaa75e4bb6e84d52948b9e6d8275c71d/kremlin -controlled-tv-airs-secret-plans-nuclear-weapon.: “Status-6 and Nuclear Strategy Beyond the Tripod,”, November 12, 2015, available at 11/12/status-6-and-nuclear-strategy-beyond-the-tripod/#comments.; Patrick Know, “Russian NUCLEAR war plan leaked: News report fails to blur out top secret document,” London Daily Star, November 11, 2015, available at; Lynn Berry, “Russian TV leaks file on top-secret new nuke,” Dublin Independent, November 13, 2015, available at 8/1?accountid=155509&t:ac=169A7365A8C5865E0E8/1&t:cp=maintain/resultcitationblocksbrief&t:zoneid=transactionalZone_16a41b53898.

[11] Dr. John Harvey, then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Program during the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, said that the review concluded that the U.S. needed “about 1850 ‘real’ deployed [strategic nuclear] warheads.”[11] According to Ambassador Ron Lehman (former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Chief START Treaty negotiator and Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), the average yield of U.S. nuclear warheads in 1994 was .216 megaton. Since then, the average yield certainly has not increased since no new weapons have been added to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A force of 1,850 deployed nuclear warheads with an average of .216 megaton yield would total slightly less than 400 megatons, which is about what one Russian submarine carrying Status-6 could deliver to the U.S. “Statement of Dr. John R. Harvey Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Request for Atomic Energy Defense Activities and Nuclear Forces Programs Before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives May 9, 2013,” p.1, available at HHRG-113-AS29-Wstate-HarveyJ-20130509.pdf.: Dr. Ronald Lehman, NUCLEAR WEAPON TRENDS: SOME PERSPECTIVES ON NUMBERS TOP TO BOTTOM, LLNL, February 5, 2016, p. 6.

[12] “Russian Navy to get Poseidon nuclear underwater drones by 2027 – source,” TASS, May 12, 2018, available at

[13] “Russian commander comment on Putin’s weapons announcement,” BBC Monitoring of the Former Soviet Union, May 5, 2018, available at

[14] “The Su-34 strike fighter Upgrading a Hellduck: Russia’s Su-34 to Get State of-the-Art Overhaul,” Sputnik News, December 10, 2016, available at 2800-russia-su-34-strike fighter-modernization/.: Piotor Butowski, “Daggers, Stones and Foxbats,” Air International, April 2018, pp. 12-13.

[15] “Russia to deploy new Kinzhal missile on Tu-22M3 bomber,” BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, July 8, 2018, available at 2065914513/fulltext/167F6F8818 973E056B4/1?accountid=155509&site=professionalnewsstand &t:ac=167F6F8818973E056B4/1&t:cp=maintain/resultcitationblocksbrief&t:zoneid=transactionalZone_1689177 4de0.: “Russia’s Tu-22M3M Bomber to Be Able to Carry Up to 4 Kinzhal Missiles – Source,” Sputnik News, July 2, 2018,

[16] “Su-57 jets will be equipped with hypersonic missiles similar to Kinzhal — source,” TASS, December 6, 2018,

[17] “Russia to use SS-19 ICBMs as carriers for Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles — source,” TASS, March 20, 2017, available at

[18] “Russia to deliver Avangard system to Armed Forces in 2019 - Putin (Part 2)” Interfax, June 7, 2018, available at

[19] Pavel Podvig, “Avangard system is tested, said to be fully ready for deployment,” Russia, December

24, 2018, available at

[20] “Presidential Address to Federal Assembly,”, February 2019, available at president/ news/59863.

[21] John A. Tirpak, “The Great Hypersonic Race,” Air Force Magazine, August 2018, MagazineArchive/Pages/2018/August%202018/The-Great-Hypersonic-Race.aspx.

[22] “Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly,” March 1, 2018, op. cit.: Litovkin, “What major weapons Russian military will get in 2018,” op. cit.: “Sarmat ICBM: 8 Megatons at Hypersonic Speeds, Arriving 2 Years Ahead of Schedule,” op. cit.; “Russia to use SS-19 ICBMs as carriers for Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles — source,” op. cit.: “Russia to use SS-19 ICBMs as carriers for Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles — source,” op. cit.

[22] Felgenhauer, “Bomb Makers Trade Union,” op. cit.

[23] “Russia’s new strategic weapons don’t fall under limits of New START Treaty, says envoy,” TASS, April 15, 2019, available at  

[24] Patrick Tucker, “New New START a Nonstarter: Russian Ambassador,” Defense, March 12, 2019, available at /155474/?utmsource = Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=ebb-3-13&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief.

[25] “Russia’s Armed Forces Surpass All World Armies in Modern Weapons,” Russian Federation Defense Ministry, December 24, 2018, available at @egNews.

[26] “Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Federation attends extended session of the Russian Defence Ministry board session,” Russian Federation Defense Ministry, December 18, 2018, available at .ru/en/news_page/country/more.htm?id=12208613@egNews.: “Meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu,”, December 8, 2015, available at

[27] “New START Treaty Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms,” (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of State, September 1, 2018), available at

[28] “Russia launches production of upgraded Tu-160 strategic bombers,” TASS, December 20, 2018, available at http: //

[29] Nuclear Posture Review, op. cit., pp. I.

[30] “New START: Potemkin Village Verification,” (Washington D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, June 24, 2010), available at -villageverification?query=New+ START:+Potemkin+Village+Verification.

[31] Senator Christopher Bond, “The New START Treaty,” The Congressional Record, November 18, 2010, available at

[32] “U.S. to seek ways of leveling capacities of Russian strategic nuclear forces - Gen. Karakayev,” Interfax, December 17, 2018, available at

[33] “Statement by Mr. Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the UN, during General Debate at the UN Disarmament Commission 2018,” Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, April 2, 2018, available at

[34] “FACTBOX – Strategic Missile Forces Day in Russia,” Sputnik, December 17, 2018, available at https://dialog

[35] Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris, “Russian nuclear forces, 2018,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April

30, 2018, p. 186, available at

[36] “New START,” (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of State, no date), available at newstart/index.htm.

[37] “Some 400 ICBMs are on combat duty in Russia - RVSN commander,” Interfax, December 16, 2014, available at .

[38] “Russia’s RVSN has some 400 ICBMs on duty – commander,” Interfax,  December 15, 2016, avaiable at “Russian Strategic Missile Troops have about 400 ICBM launchers – commander,” BBC Monitoring of the Former Soviet Union, December 17, 2013, available at http://dialog.proquest. com/professional/docview/14685975 32?accountid=155509.

[39] Vladimir Kudelev, “The Super-Accurate Skorost and the Undetectable Kuryer. The Forgotten Unique Developments of Aleksandr Nadiradze,” Moscow Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kuryer Online, October 12, 2011. (Translation by World News Connection.)

[40] Bill Gertz, “Inside the Ring - SMITH OPPOSES SMALL NUKES,” The Washington Times, April 17, 2019, available at

[41] “Russia to upgrade Tu-22M3 strategic bombers in 2018,” TASS, November 17, 2108, available at Vladimir Karnozov, “Upgraded 'Backfire' Rolled Out at Kazan,” AINonline, August 17, 2018, available at “Russia’s White Swan Strategic Bomber Just Got a 1,000 km+ Range Upgrade,” Sputnik News, March 21, 2018, available at 062773529-tu160-range-upgrade/.

[42] Alexander Mladenov, “New Flankers, upgraded Flankers and a Backfire’s Maidan flight,” Air International,

February 2019, p. 32.

[43] “Russia’s upgraded strategic bomber to join Aerospace Force in October,” TASS, May 15, 2018, available at http ://

[44] Nuclear Posture Review, op. cit., p. 8.: “Tu-22M3 launching a Kh-32 cruise missile,” YouTube, June 27, 2013, available at David Cenciotti, “New image of a Russian Tu-22M Backfire with cruise missile emerges,” The, December 16, 2013, available at http://the 12/16/tu-22-cruise-missiles/.

[45] “Winged Snipers: Best of the Best of Russia’s Ballistic and Cruise Missiles,” Sputnik News, December 23, 2017, available at

[46] Nikolai Litovkin, “New Russian cruise missiles to hit targets from the stratosphere,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, August 30, 2016, available at

[47] “Russia: First Tu-22M3M bomber due 2018, 30 to be upgraded,” BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, May 21, 2017, available at B902/1?accountid=155509&t:ac=169A7211AB8429AB902/1&t:cp=maintain/resultcitationblocksbrief&t:zoneid=transactionalZone_16a419fe5cb.

[48] “Meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu,”, December 8, 2015, available at http://en.kremlin. ru/events/president/news/50892: “In the course of the last 24 hours, aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces have performed 82combat sorties engaging 204 terrorist objects in Syria,” Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation, December 9, 2015, available at @egNews.; "Strategic Tu-95MS bombers destroyed the ISIS militants' command post and storages in Syria with a missile attack, Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation," August 5, 2017, available at  

[49] “Winged Snipers: Best of the Best of Russia’s Ballistic and Cruise Missiles,” op. cit.


[51] Aleksey Arbatov, “Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Problems and Solutions: Strategic Offensive Weapon Reductions Could Extend to Nonstrategic Munitions,” Voyenno-Promyshlenny Nezavisimoye Online, May 20, 2011. (Translated by World News Connection).: Aleksey Arbatov, “‘Concepts’: Nonstrategic Nuclear Weapons; Dilemmas and Approaches; The Path to a Nuclear-Free World Promises To Be Long,” Moscow Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye Online, May 20, 2011. (Translated by World News Connection.); “In a Broad Context,” Krasnaya Zvezda Online, April 29, 2011. (Translated by World News Connection.)

[52] Nuclear Posture Review, op. cit., p. 53.

[53] “Obama Advisor Gary Samore, ‘The Ball is Very Much in Tehran's Court,'" Radio Free Europe, April 14, 2011, available at samore_russia_iran_us_policy/3557326.html.

[54] “Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell, Chairman JCS, Pete Wilson, ASD (Public Affairs) Saturday 28, 1991—10:00am,” pp. 2-3.

[55] Dr. Stephen Blank, “Putin’s ‘Asymmetric Strategy’: Nuclear and New-Type Weapons in Russian Defense Policy,” in Glen E. Howard and Mathew Czekaj, editors, Russia’s Military Strategy and Doctrine, (Washington D.C.: The Jamestown Foundation, 2019), p. 286, available at

[56] “Russia to broaden nuclear strike options,” Russia Today, October 14, 2009, available at

[57] “Secretary General’s Annual Report: The Alliance is Stepping Up,” (Brussels: NATO, March 15, 2018), available at

[58] David Nowak, “Russia reserves right to conduct preemptive nuclear strike: Say US, NATO pose threat of aggression,”

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