Russia’s president has warned the West that he has “various weapons of destruction” after accusing world leaders of launching “nuclear blackmail” against his country.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not a bluff,” he said. Wladimir Putin said in a rare televised address to the nation.
The news has already sparked a reaction from Britain, with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace saying “no amount of threat and propaganda” can cover up that Ukraine is winning the war.
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But what kind of nuclear weapons does Russia actually have and what damage could they do? Sky News took a look.
How many nuclear weapons does Russia have?
According to the Federation of American Scientists Russia has a total inventory of 5,977 nuclear warheads – the largest in the world.
In comparison, the US has 5,428, France 290 and the UK 225.
It states that about 90% of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says Russia’s arsenal includes 4,447 warheads, 1,588 of which are on ballistic missiles and on heavy bomber bases.
It states that “approximately an additional 977 strategic warheads along with 1,912 non-strategic warheads” are held in reserve.
However, experts have said that the exact number of warheads and weapons is not known due to the secrecy of security strategies and concerns.
What threat do the weapons pose to Ukraine and the whole world?
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) owned by Russia have the ability to reach and destroy major global cities such as London or Washington.
ICBMs can reach a maximum speed about 10 minutes after launch, allowing one launched from Russia to reach Britain in just 20 minutes.
In March, Mr Putin sounded the alarm around the world after putting his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert.
At the time, defense expert General Sir Richard Barrons told Sky News: “President Putin has upped the ante – he has started to hint at nuclear weapons on a global scale.
“That means the type of equipment [like] an intercontinental ballistic missile – that is, it ranges from Russia to the United States and, of course, to Europe.
“The forward warhead has a yield of between 300 and 800 kilotons [of TNT equivalent].
“Three hundred kilotons is enough to destroy Washington or London or Paris.
“We should understand that the commitment to Ukraine has now gone global.
“Essentially, the rest of the western hemisphere is now on the playing field with Ukraine raising the specter of nuclear weapons.”
He added other gear capable of firing smaller weapons that would still wreak havoc on their target.
For example, the 2S7 gun – 203 mm caliber – has a range of about 37 km [22 miles] and fires a grenade that weighs 110 kg.
Sir Richard added: “It can also fire a nuclear shell with a yield of around a kiloton – a thousand tons of TNT equivalent.
“So when President Putin starts talking about nuclear options, maybe he has something like that in mind.
“Then he can turn to the Iskander missile – a range of about 500 km [310 miles].
“In its conventional form, it fires a rocket with a 480 kg warhead, which is massive, with an accuracy of about five meters.
“It can fire a nuclear weapon with an explosive yield of between five and 50 kilotons.
“So with that reach and with that kind of yield, it would be absolutely devastating.”
Is Russia’s inventory likely to change?
The Russians have continued a “broad” modernization program to replace most Soviet-era weapons.
It is also said to introduce new types of weapons.
Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stated: “We estimate that by early 2022 Russia will have an inventory of approximately 4,477 nuclear warheads, designed for use by long-range strategic and tactical launchers are intended for shorter-range nuclear forces, which represents a slight decrease compared to the previous year.
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“Of the warheads in storage, approximately 1,588 are deployed strategically: about 812 on land-based ballistic missiles, about 576 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and possibly 200 on heavy bomber bases.”
The Bulletin also states that as of February 23, “some of the Russian delivery vehicles stationed near Ukraine are considered dual-capable, meaning they can be used to launch conventional or nuclear weapons.”
What would be the expected procedure for Russia to launch a nuclear weapon?
The country’s president, defense minister or chief of staff must give approval through the so-called Cheget nuclear suitcase.
Russia’s nuclear doctrine permits the use of a so-called tactical nuclear weapon – a limited nuclear detonation – that can be used in a conventional conflict to induce the enemy to back down.
Strategic nuclear weapons can hit targets that are much further away, such as the United States.
Tactical nuclear weapons is the term for those used on a battlefield like Ukraine.
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What is happening to the amount of nuclear weapons in the world?
Other countries are buying or developing their own new missiles, driven by safety concerns and a desire to reduce dependency on other suppliers.
Before the decade is out, Asia in particular will be littered with conventional missiles that will fly farther, faster, hit harder, and be more sophisticated than ever.
China mass-produces its DF-26 – a multi-role weapon with a range of up to 4,000 km (2,485 miles).
The US is developing new weapons aimed at countering Beijing in the Pacific.
Taiwan and Japan are also strengthening their missile capabilities and defense systems designed to counter missile threats.
The Federation of American Scientists said nine countries possessed around 12,700 warheads as of early 2022.