Country Report: Russia

While the Russia and the United States have signed and ratified the New START Treaty and have started making strategic cuts to their nuclear arsenals, there is still much work to be done getting to zero by breaking free of Cold War theories of nuclear security and deterrence. BASIC monitors Russia’s nuclear policies and shifts in politics on ballistic missile defence, tactical nuclear weapons, and deterrence policy in its Getting to Zero updates. Read the summaries below in reverse chronological order.

August 2012

The new Borey-class ballistic missile submarines are beginning to enter service. Russia plans to have two operational boats by the end of 2012, and at least ten of these boats operating by 2020. The Russian navy will initially operate the two Borey-class submarines as part of the Northern fleet, and then move the boats to the Pacific. Each submarine may carry up to 16 new Bulava missiles with a range of about 8,000km/5,000 miles; with each missile capable of holding 6-10 warheads. Additionally, top military officials are predicting the planned long-range “PAK DA” strategic bomber may be ready by 2020, five years earlier than originally projected. During a meeting on national defense at the end of July, President Vladimir Putin said, “By 2020 the share of up-to-date arms in the strategic nuclear weapons [arsenal] should reach 75-85 percent, in the aerospace defense system – at least 70 percent.”

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June 2012

Russia was reported to have tested successfully a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) named the “Avant-garde” on May 24, intended to counter NATO’s nascent missile defense system. The missile was launched from Plesetsk in northwestern Russia, with a dummy warhead, and landed at its intended target on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific. Former President Dmitry Medvedev and now second-time President Vladimir Putin have repeatedly objected to NATO’s plans to develop missile defense in Europe, arguing that it could undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent (see the section below for developments on missile defense).

Russian air force commander Col. Gen. Alexander Zelin announced Russia’s plans to develop its next generation bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons, saying that the bomber would join the “new and upgraded air force by the 2030s.”

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February 2012

According to Lt. General Sergei Karakayev, head of strategic missile forces, Russia plans to design and build a new, liquid-fueled ICBM that could break through a U.S. ballistic missile defense system. Russia also plans to stage 11 ICBM tests in 2012. Russian military and political leaders have more publicly emphasized their commitment to the country’s missile forces in the midst of growing U.S. and NATO ballistic missile defense cooperation. (See the Missile Defense section at the bottom of this update.)

Russia will begin deployment of its Borey-class submarines, starting with two this year and six more for a fleet total of eight by 2018. The submarines will be equipped with the new Bulava nuclear ballistic missile, which President Dmitry Medvedev announced was ready for service after the previously embattled program had completed two more successful test flights in December.

Citing Iran’s proximity to Russia, and regional insecurity, Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said that military intervention would be considered a threat against Russia. The remark made earlier in January came after weeks of rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility that Israel and the United States might push for a military strike.

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November 2011

The Russian navy recently completed a test-launch of a Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) from the White Sea. The launch was the third successful attempt in a row, after Russia had suffered a string of setbacks with the program. The Bulava’s warheads ultimately reached a testing range on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Pacific, following a journey of 3,500 miles (5,500 km). The Bulava has a maximum range of 5,600 miles (9,000 km) and can carry multiple independently-targeted nuclear warheads. The missile was launched from a new Borey-class nuclear submarine, which is designed to hold up to 16 missiles. Russia is planning for a total of eight Borey-class submarines, and will gradually phase out the Soviet-era Typhoon-class. Russian officials have emphasized that the Bulava is specially designed to evade and overcome any potential missile defense systems. Russia hopes to conduct one more test of the Bulava before the end of the year.

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July 2011

On July 1, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced that the Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) will go into serial production after a successful launch from the Yuri Dolgoruky, the first Borei class submarine, on June 28. There are plans to perform another test launch from the Alexander Nevsky, the second Borei class nuclear-powered submarine, later this year. The Bulava missile will be capable of reaching targets at ranges of 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) and can carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. The Bulava, along with the Topol-M land-based ballistic missile, is expected to form the core of Russia’s nuclear triad.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also announced Russia will spend $730 billion by 2020 to upgrade and re-arm its military, including the purchase of eight missile-carrying strategic submarines equipped with Bulava missiles.

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May 2011

Russia will attempt another test of the submarine-launched Bulava missile from the Dmitry Donskoi in mid-June. The embattled Bulava program had been put on hold after a higher-than-anticipated number of test failures. The Defense Ministry has said that four more successful tests of the Bulava would allow it to enter service by the end of the year. Russian officials also plan to use new Borei class submarines to attempt their first tests of the Bulava this year. Russia has also conducted two tests of the long-range Sineva missile within the past month.

During his annual address to lawmakers, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin repeated his country’s commitment to double its manufacturing rate of missiles starting in 2013. Russian officials have also recently repeated warnings that they will bolster their country’s missile capabilities if they see U.S. and NATO missile defense plans as threatening to their nuclear deterrent. (See the section on Missile Defense below.)

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March 2011

The Russian navy is expected to receive its new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), the Bulava, this year. The Bulava has faced a number of problems during testing. Russia also anticipates purchasing two SSBNs and 36 ICBMs. However, Russia is not expecting to build its new long-range bomber until 2025, with the design to be completed by 2020. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will double its missile production output starting in 2013.

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