A new review of Russian nuclear forces published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says that the Kremlin appears to be attempting to reassert its nuclear strength after years of decline in order to underscore Russia’s status as a powerful nation. Large-scale exercises have been reinstated and modernizations of nuclear forces continue with reports about a new maneuverable warhead and the mobile version of the SS-27 (Topol-M) expected to become operational later this year.
Yet the reassertion is done with fewer strategic warheads than at any time since the mid-1970s, approximately 3,500 operational strategic warheads. The number of operational non-strategic nuclear weapons has been cut by more than half to approximately 2,300 warheads.
Moreover, during 2005, Russia’s 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines only conducted three deterrent patrols. This is a slightly better performance than in 2002 when no patrols were made, but a far cry from the 1980s when Soviet ballistic missile submarines conducted 50-100 deterrent patrols each year.