Updated: March 2018
In February 2018, Russia announced that it had met its New START limits on strategic nuclear weapons and had reduced its total number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,444, delivered by 527 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. As of early 2017, Russia’s entire nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 7,010 warheads, including approximately 2,510 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.
- The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
- Delivery Systems
- Nuclear Doctrine
- Fissile Material
- Proliferation Record
- New START
- Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
- Conference on Disarmament (CD)
- Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
- Nuclear Security Summits
- Syrian Chemical Weapons
- Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)
CPPNM 2005 Amendment
International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list
Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007
Co-founder with the United States
Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states
The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
According to a February 2018 statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russia has deployed 1,444 strategic warheads deployed on 527 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of 2017, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 7,010 warheads, including approximately 700 strategic warheads in reserve, roughly 2,000 tactical warheads, and approximately 2,510 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.
Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)
- As of 2016, Russia’s estimated 316 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,076 warheads, include the:
- RS-12M - three variants: ninety RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle]), eighteen mobile RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]), and sixty silo RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]); each carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
- RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) - mobile and silo versions, 70 mobile missiles and 12 silo missiles, each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
- RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) – 20 missiles, each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
- RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) – 46 missiles, each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
- RS-26 Rubezh - development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km. It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
- RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat) - dubbed the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2”, Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s. It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev. The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
- Barguzin - Russian defense officials have indicated that a rail-based version of the SS-27 Mod 2 (intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains), called the Barguzin, is in the early stages of design development. Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.
- All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
- While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.
Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)
- Russia is capable of delivering up to 768 warheads through 6 Delta IV submarines, 3 Delta III submarines (only two of which were operational as of 2016—the other was undergoing overhaul), and 3 of the new Borey-class submarines (Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
- Delta IV - part of Russia’s Northern Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles, reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).The Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau was contracted to develop the R-29RMU2.
- Delta III - part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
- Borey class and Borey-A class –armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):
- Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2.
- RSM-50 - deployed in 1978, equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range, inventory includes 32 deployed RSM-50 missiles with 96 warheads.
- RSM-54 - deployed in 2007, equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range, inventory includes 96 deployed RSM-54 missiles with 384 warheads.
- RSM-56 (Bulava) - deployed in 2014, equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range, inventory includes 48 deployed RSM-56 missiles with 288 warheads. Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.
- R-29RMU2- several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.
- As of early 2017, the Russian Air Force operates a total of 60-70 long-range bombers: approximately 25 Tu-95 MS6 (Bear-H6) long-range bombers, 30 Tu-95 MS16 (Bear-H16) long-range bombers, and 13 Tu-160 (Blackjack) supersonic long-range bombers.
- All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. Only 50 of the bombers are believed to be deployed with an estimated carrying capacity of 616 cruise missiles and an unspecified number of gravity bombs.
- The estimated 68 strategic bombers do not all regularly carry nuclear payloads but have the capacity to deliver up to 786 cruise missiles in total.
- The specific carry capacity of each bomber is as follows:
- Tu-95 MS6 - capable of carrying 6 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 84 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
- Tu-95 MS16 - capable of carrying up to 16 nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. An estimated 400 AS-15A missiles are deployed as of 2017.
- Tu-160 – capable of carrying up to 12 Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. An estimated 132 AS-15B missiles are deployed as of 2017.
- All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
- The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
- Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.
Under Russia’s standing military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, “The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”
U.S. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine.
Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.
Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)
- The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
- At the end of 2015, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
- Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
- A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.
- In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
- Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
- The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
- 57.2 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
- Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
- However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.
- The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
- In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
- Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
- Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
- The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
- The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other former Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
- However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
- After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.
- The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
- The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
- Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.”
- The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the U.S. from reaching more concrete conclusions.
- Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
- On September 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
- The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”
- The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015 and 2016.
For its part, Russia has raised concerns about U.S. compliance with the treaty.
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as New START, entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.
Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.
Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.
Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.
Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”
Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.
In September 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.
In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.
(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation especially since its borders fall well within the range of Iranian ballistic missiles. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nonproliferation sanctions. For example, in 2016 Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. In response to threats arising from the Trump administration to discontinue the JCPOA, Vladimir Voronkov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, stated in January 2017 that it is “necessary to do everything possible to avoid damage” to the nuclear deal.