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Russia's nuclear weapons: Could Putin reach London? How real is the nuclear war threat?

Mark Almond: The good news is that Putin can't start WW3 just by jabbing a button on his desk

Vladimir Putin could not be clearer. “I’m not bluffing,” he said of his threat to go nuclear. But is he? And does it automatically follow that Armageddon would occur if Putin fired the first atomic bombs the world has seen since 1945?

The good news is that Putin cannot start World War III simply by pressing a red button on his desk in the Kremlin. If it decides to launch an attack, the command must pass through at least three layers of controls put in place to prevent the accidental or unauthorized launch of nuclear missiles.

Before reaching the nuclear silos, mobile launch sites, and submarines, his command would pass through three men: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, and the head of the Russian Nuclear Forces, Sergei Karakayev.

Even after going through this chain of command, the launches did not immediately follow.

Unless standard protocols have changed since Russia invaded Ukraine, there would be a 20-minute gap between each “nuclear football” broadcast. [the Cheget] with the codes needed to transmit the launch command and target information so the nuclear troops can verify that they are truly authorized.

These safeguards are critical given the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It is estimated that there are 5,977 nuclear warheads – the largest in the world – stored mainly in 12 depots across Russia. Of these, 1,500 should be ready to go.

Before the war in Ukraine, Putin boasted that America’s Star Wars missile defense system was powerless to stop his new hypersonic missiles. In practice, however, the weapons he is most likely to use will tend to be smaller tactical missiles that can hit neighbors like Ukraine or nearby NATO countries.

Mark Almond: “Vladimir Putin could not be clearer. “I’m not bluffing,” he said of his threat to go nuclear. But is he?’

These are mostly located in “European” Russia and in the Kaliningrad exclave between Poland and Lithuania. Including the long-range Kalibr cruise missile, which could reach London. It is possible that Putin could surprise the West by using his shorter-range Iskander missiles to launch missiles with a nuclear warhead. If fired from a truck-mounted launcher on Russian territory, even the Iskander could hit Warsaw or Stockholm with a warhead eight times more destructive than the Hiroshima bomb.

Finally, Putin has his classic ICBMs stationed in silos in western Siberia. You could easily reach London or Washington.

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What we don’t know is whether Russia’s aging nuclear warheads still work. While Russia has tested the missiles that would carry the nuclear warheads, test-ban treaties mean neither America nor Russia has actually detonated a nuclear weapon for decades.

Riot police arrest a woman Wednesday during a protest against the mobilization of reservists in Moscow, Russia.  Putin made the partial mobilization effective immediately

Riot police arrest a woman Wednesday during a protest against the mobilization of reservists in Moscow, Russia. Putin made the partial mobilization effective immediately

Given the sophisticated wiretapping capabilities of our security services, no Russian nuclear attack would come out of the blue. It would take a blizzard of electronic commands to launch thousands of missiles and bombers, and these would be intercepted by the West’s spies.

Furthermore, spy satellite imagery of the concrete and steel covers of huge underground nuclear storage bunkers being withdrawn, submarines putting to sea and Russian strategic bombers taxiing onto runways would all warn us in advance of an offensive. Indeed, it would be reasonable to assume that if not for the popular cliché’s ten-minute warning, we in the West will have perhaps up to an hour to prepare.

Not that there’s much we can do to capitalize on it to save lives. In fact, even if we had a network of underground bunkers in our cities and towns, if the government waited until there was clear evidence of a missile launch by Russia that people were doing much about it, it would be too late could spread to places security.

In these circumstances, any public warning is unlikely to cause more than stampede. This is why Western governments rely on nuclear deterrence rather than contingency plans, and I believe they will likely continue to do so, focusing their efforts on convincing Putin to back off the brink rather than developing a public warning system.

The worst-case scenario, of course, is that the unthinkable happens: parts of the UK are destroyed, the population decimated, the government annihilated. As frightening as it is, plans have been made for this as well. Command of our forces would be transferred to Canada or America.

But unless Putin is suicidal, the threat of a devastating nuclear strike should make everyone in the Kremlin think twice about attacking Britain, meaning a mutiny within his inner circle is entirely possible.

Still, we cannot trust Putin’s promises. We should take his threats seriously.

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