What We Know About Putin’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal
During his state-of-the-nation address on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the suspension of his country’s participation in the New START treaty that limits the number of nuclear weapons for both the United States and Russia.
The treaty was Moscow’s last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the U.S., and his decision resulted in an international reaction. Among those who voiced disapproval was NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who told reporters at a news conference that “[m]ore nuclear weapons and less arms control makes the world more dangerous.”
“As Putin made clear today, he’s preparing for more war,” Stoltenberg said, according to Reuters. “I regret the decision by Russia to suspend its participation in [the] New START program.”
Putin also said in Tuesday’s speech that Russia could resume nuclear weapons tests. Russia already possesses the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons.
How Many Nukes Does Russia Have?
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) think tank reported in 2022 that Putin has 5,977 nuclear warheads in his arsenal. Meanwhile, the United States has 5,428. Together, the two countries own approximately 90 percent of all nuclear warheads in the world.
The U.S. has been reducing its nuclear arsenal, according to FAS. However, other countries, including possibly Russia, are thought to be increasing their stockpiles.
Much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal was passed down from the days of the Soviet Union, and FAS said about 1,500 of its warheads are retired but could still be intact.
Making up the rest of Putin’s arsenal are 2,889 warheads in reserve, and about 1,588 that are deployed strategic warheads.
During the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union reached more than 40,000 nuclear warheads. The U.S. hit a peak of just over 30,000 warheads in the 1960s.
FAS noted that the numbers cited are estimates since the “exact number of nuclear weapons in each country’s possession is a closely held national secret.”
Though many of Russia’s current stockpile may be old, a top military official who oversaw the U.S. nuclear arsenal warned in 2021 that Russia was modernizing its nuclear weapons.
“It is easier to describe what they are not modernizing—pretty much nothing—than what they are, which is pretty much everything,” Admiral Charles Richard, who has since retired, said during a congressional hearing.
But Putin isn’t necessarily looking to escalate weapon-building to Cold War-era levels. Mark N. Katz, a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told Newsweek that Putin measured his words when announcing Russia’s suspending of the New START treaty.
“He very carefully states, though, that Russia will not be the first to test new types of nuclear weapons, but will do so if the U.S. does,” Katz said. “This is the one indication of Russian self-restraint that he makes. He doesn’t really want a nuclear arms race.”
Newsweek reached out to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.