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Has Russia lost control of its nuclear weapons?

Nuclear logoCaptain’s Quarters wonders what’s behind the recent spate of nuclear ‘incidents’ that can be traced back to Russia in one way or another:

A couple of scenarios could be in play. The first is that Putin has decided to gain hard cash by putting fissile material on the black market, which is not only insane but counterproductive. After all, Putin has his own insurgencies in the Caucasus, and the material could just as easily find its way there rather that against Putin’s enemies. The second possibility is even more frightening — which is that Russia has lost control over its nuclear materials and wants to keep the West from discovering it.

I think discarding the first option is pretty easy, too.  Putin has no need of hard cash – even if he is approaching retirement, he’s got plenty of far better ways to earn some ‘under the counter’ income.  And Russia as a country isn’t exactly scrabbling around for hard cash, floating as it does on a mighty lake of black gold.

The second option is far, far more plausible and, I think, the most likely option.  Nuclear security in Russia is lax- there simply is no denying it.  Bribery and corruption is endemic, and the people guarding nuclear material are – by and large – poor.  Beyond fear, they have very little incentive to turn down a bundle of thousand rouble notes in return for looking the other way. 

A quick Google search shows that nuclear material has been going missing from Russian stores for a decade or more.  A Guardian news story shows that Chechens might have some radioactive material

One final option that should be considered (even though its not one I personally subscribe to) is that the Russian government is deliberately making use of its arsenal of nuclear material to further its political agenda.  This could range from trying to strike fear into the hearts of rogue operatives, to intimidation of friendly (and not so friendly states) by hinting that a dirty bomb is a possibility, to simply trying to persuade Western donors to pay for the cleanup, disposal or security of nuclear material. 


  • In answer to your question, (Has Russia Lost Control . . ) I doubt it very much. The rhetoric of the media at present is plainly Russophobic. Given that it is NATO that is aggressively encircling Russia – with the ‘lilypad of bases’ – I am sure Russia is logging every last firework in its arsenal very meticulously, just in case. Just as it did when Reagan promised Russia ‘star wars’.

    Many Russian scientists believe that the Chernobyl accident happened because Russia was short of warheads. At the time, the US threat was such that power plants were turned over to the military.

    Russians see the threat from the increasingly warmongering US as something very serious. Why do you write a piece that suggests Russians are ‘stoopid’ ?. They are perfectly able to read newspapers and to comprehend that Bushco wants ‘regime change’ again.

    For the record, Andy, nuclear weapons decay fast and need constant refit and rebuild to be effective. The issue the Litvinenko issue reporting has avoided is that Polonium is a relatively ‘old fashioned’ trigger with a short half life. One of its possible uses would be to refit an outdated device – perhaps something that went walkabout in the drunken Yeltsin years. But even that – or whether something so old would still work – is speculation.

    And you think the black market has the technology, resources, protective clothing, laboratories, weapons handling facilities and so on necessary to even entrepreneur this stuff?

    Well, if you believe that, pick up a ‘buy one nuke, get one free’ offer in the rinuk. Oh, and give us a hand while we put in the back of the Lada.

    It’s nonsense and you know it. For anyone in the market for weapons, there’s loads of conventional stuff that’s brand new, guaranteed to work with no risk involved.

  • I would have to disagree with the Author on this one. If there’s one thing certain in Russia and has always been is the security of Nuclear weapons. Just because you have some incidents occurring does not really mean anything. Russia has never lost nuclear weapons and there has never been one credible report of it. Whatever you hear is always hear say and propaganda. I am as much anti-communist and anti-Putin as the next guy but one thing is that the Russians have always had control of their Nukes. If they could terrorist would have gotten their hands on Nukes long ago.


  • But, if we are to assume that Russia has kept tight control of its nuclear materials… then where does all this radioactive material that people (quite often Russian people) keep trying to sell actually come from?

    By the way, just to clarify, I don’t really think there are any actual nuclear weapons going missing – just (some of) the material that is needed to build them. Nor am I all that optimistic that a terrorist organisation could turn any material that they did manage to get their hands on into anything more than an extremely crude ‘dirty’ bomb.

    Finally – I’ve slightly revised the post above to remove an errant half-sentence and correct a spelling mistake.

  • Andy wrote:

    “But, if we are to assume that Russia has kept tight control of its nuclear materials… then where does all this radioactive material that people (quite often Russian people) keep trying to sell actually come from?”

    I think it’s the same as that wonderful bimbo question: “When we lose weight, where does it go to?”

    I imagine that components are sold by con-men. Like Litvinenko and Scaramella, for example. Polonium can be a nuclear trigger. But it has many legitimate industrial uses as an anti-static material for use in recording and photography. This isn’t even black market fare.

    I think the problem, Andy, is that the article you quoted is seriously flawed.

  • What COPYDUDE’s stupid propaganda chooses to ignore is that if Russia DOES have control over its nukes then it is intentionally using them to foment terror. That was Andy’s point. It’s really getting quite amusing to watch Russophile wackos like COPYDUDE squirm ever more furiously to explain the latest outrage from Russia. I can’t wait to learn what they’ll say when the Gulags start going back up!

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