As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters a second day – at least 137 died in yesterday’s fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said – concerns are being raised over the significant threat posed by nuclear weapons available to both the United States and Russia, as well as other western powers in the region – the United Kingdom and France.
On Thursday US President Joe Biden addressed the possibility of nuclear strikes that seemed implicit in Russia’s ‘threat’ – President Vladimir Putin had warned of “the greatest consequences in history” if any country were to interfere.
“No idea what he (Putin) is threatening. I know what he has done,” Biden said.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was more direct and said Putin’s statement was tantamount to a threat to use nuclear weapons.
Le Drian also warned Putin NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an intergovernmental military bloc that Ukraine is pushing to join despite Russia’s reservations – too has nukes.
In the back-and-forth between Russia and NATO, as recently as December last year Putin indicated willingness to use nuclear missiles in response to what he sees as the West’s threat.
Those comments were specifically on intermediate-range nuclear weapons, which have a range of between 500 and 5,500 km and have been banned in Europe since a 1987 treaty. The US, in 2019, withdrew from that treaty, which was what prompted Russia’s belligerent stand.
How many nukes do either side of this conflict have?
Ukraine surrendered a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, built up during its time as part of the Soviet Republic, in 1994 when it signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Today it has none.
Russia has one of the world’s biggest (if not biggest) nuclear arsenal.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a US-based nonprofit global security group combating nuclear threats – estimates Putin has about 6,200 nuclear warheads, of which around 1,600 are ‘deployed strategic nuclear warheads’.
The US has about 3,750 (with another 150-200 deployed in five NATO countries), according to the NTI. UK and France have about 500 between them.