Russia's Nuclear Weapons

Bryan McLellan
May 15, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Putin touring Votkinsk missile plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Russia has long been developing nuclear weapons. The advancement and evolution of these weapons has many times seemed questionable outside of Russia due to reports of launch failures, premature crashes and other errors. [1] However with just several days until another election in Russia, President Vladmir Putin has declared several groundbreaking developments in Russian nuclear missiles to threaten the west. However, the credibility of President Putin's declarations are the focus points of American policies. [1]

Russian Nuclear Missiles

President Putin has described this new class of Russian missiles as "invincible" intercontinental cruise missiles that cannot be stopped by American defenses. [1] He can be seen touring the Votkinsk missile plant in Fig. 1. The idea is that typically nuclear missiles fly high into the atmosphere and can be neutralized in the air by defenses before threatening to hit the ground. However, these new Russian cruise missiles allegedly fly much lower to the ground making them much stealthier and impossible to neutralize. Since they fly closer to the ground, they also fly much faster making them even more difficult to defend against. [1] Just looking at the raw quantity of U.S. interceptors to Russian warheads is another daunting fact. Russia has far more firepower than the United States.

Russia has also developed more advanced traditional ballistic nuclear missiles. One of its most recent developments is The Sarmat, which is a modern replacement for the largest and most powerful nuclear weapon of the cold war. It weighs over 200 tons and has virtually unlimited range. [2] It still has yet to be used but is currently in an active stage of testing.

As of the terms of New START, the nuclear arms reduction treaty signed in 2010 by President Putin and former President Barack Obama, both Russia and the United States have more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other several times. [3] This treaty expires in some three years time. According the American presidency, President Putin is willing to extend the agreement beyond the year 2021. However, President Trump has labeled New Start as "a bad deal" after learning that it was former President Obama who negotiated the deal. [3] The future of the treaty remains unclear.


The question at the heart of President Putin's sudden announcement of new classes of Russian nuclear weapons are naturally whether everything that he has said is true. Given Russia's recent history of a lack of success in the missile area, several analysts are skeptical of all of President Putin's remarks. [1] Many are so suspicious because the technologies that President Putin is claiming are absolutely new. Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London has said, "the extent that the Russians are seriously revisiting [nuclear cruise missiles] is pretty interesting". [1]

© Brian Mclellan. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] N. MacFarquhar and D. Sanger, "Putin's Invincible Missile Is Aimed at U.S. Vulnerabilities," New York Times, 1 Mar 18.

[2] W. J. Broad and A. Tiefenthaler, "Putin Flaunted Five Powerful Weapons. Are They a Threat?" New York Times, 2 Mar 18.

[3] J. Marcus, "Putin's Nuclear Slideshow Echoes Cold War," BBC News, 2 Mar 18.