Russia's Nuclear Weaponry

Evgeny Moshkovich
June 26, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Truman, Churchill and Stalin at the Potsdam conference. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia and previously the soviet union has historically been one of the leading countries when it came to nuclear weaponry. Throughout the Cold War, both sides built up their forces based on what each was thought to have or be building. In November 2010, the so-called "New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)" treaty between the United States and Russia was signed in Prague, Czech Republic, on April 8, 2010, and after ratification it came into force on February 5th 2001 and is expected to last until at least 2021. [1] The treaty was put in place to reduce the amount of weaponry both countries have and it replaced the treaty of Moscow which was due to expire in 2012. For now however Russia's nuclear arsenal is still very impressive.

Soviet atomic bomb project

The day before the Potsdam conference (Fig. 1) in July 1945 the trinity test was carried out by the Americans. During the conference, Truman and Churchill passed around a note saying "the baby was born." [2] When seeing the note however, Stalin was unimpressed as he had already found out about the test from the espionage. On 9 April 1946, a secret statement of the USSR Soviet of Ministers was adopted, establishing the Design Department N11 under the auspices of the Second Laboratory of the Academy of Sciences. General Pavel Zernov, the production manager, headed KB-11, whereas Yuri Khariton was assigned responsibility for the scientific issues. [2] The Soviet nuclear program by that time had already gotten a head start by acquiring knowledge and material from the defeated Reich. The most significant contribution from the defeated Third Reich was the location and seizure of 300 tons of uranium, 100 tons from the heavily bombed Auergesellshaft plant in Oranienburg and 100 tons from a leather tanning factory in Neustadt am Glewe. This material was used to fuel Reactor "A" located in the Urals that provided plutonium for JOE-1. In addition, German scientists such as Nicholaus Riehl and Gernot Zippe provided the Russians with information on uranium metallurgy and enrichment.[2] Soviet Union conducted its first weapon test of an implosion-type nuclear device, RDS-1, codenamed First Lightning, on 29 August 1949, at Semipalatinsk, Kazakh SSR. With the success of this test, the Soviet Union became the second nation after the United States to detonate a nuclear device.

Current Situation

The exact number of nuclear warheads is of course a very well hidden secret so one can only approximate. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia possesses 4,490 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has 4,500; Russia has 1,790 active strategic nuclear warheads, compared with the U.S. having 1,750. [1] According to 2016 data from START the United States has fewer operationally deployed strategic warheads than Russia. On the other hand, Russia is estimated to have roughly 1,500 tactical nuclear weapons, all of which are declared to be in central storage.


The friction between Russia and America has not been on the same level of aggression since the cold war. However with recent political events there is definitely some friction between the two countries. According to a Russian military doctrine stated in 2010, nuclear weapons could be used by Russia "in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened". Considering how many nuclear weapons there currently are in the world the last thing we need is a nuclear conflict or for terrorists to get hold of a missile. So for the sake of humanity let's hope that whatever tensions there are between the nations, they are resolved peacefully.

© Evgeny Moshkovich. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. J. Blank, ed., "Russian Nuclear Weapons: Past, Present, and Future," US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, (November 2011).

[2] B. F. Bernstein, "The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered," Foreign Aff. 74, No. 1, 135 (January/February 1995).