Leaked Files Have Revealed Russia’s Nuclear Strike Criteria

Leaked documents show that Russia’s “Red Lines” for nuclear deployment are surprisingly low, a report by the Financial Times has claimed.

The source of the document leak is not revealed but is said to come from “Western sources.” The leak consisted of around 29 files written between 2008 and 2014. And, as the FT reports, they appear to indicate a threshold “lower than Russia has ever publicly admitted, according to experts who reviewed and verified the documents.” Criteria for launch include things like “an enemy incursion on Russian territory to more specific triggers, such as the destruction of 20% of Russia’s strategic ballistic missile submarines,” the FT explained. The files also seem to indicate that Russia considers the loss of three of its surface ships or three of its airfields as justification for nuclear deployment.

Other criteria include the “simultaneous hit on main and reserve coastal command centers” or the loss of 30% of its nuclear-powered attack submarines. To this end, nukes could be unleashed to “[contain] states from using aggression…or escalating military conflicts.”

The files also indicate that nuclear weapons would be used to “[stop] aggression” or prevent Russian forces from losing battles or territory and make Russia’s navy “more effective.” Interestingly, given Russia’s closing ties with The People’s Republic of China, the files also note a general mistrust for Russia’s new Eastern “ally.” According to the files, the FT reports, Russia’s eastern military district has been undertaking training exercises to counter a theoretical Chinese invasion. The files indicate that Moscow is concerned that such an attack could be triggered due to Russia being distracted militarily toward the West. Such a Chinese attack is suggested to gain territory for China and Russia’s far eastern provinces. To this end, Russia, according to the files, has been conducting military exercises near China recently, with the most recent being held between June and November 2023 in regions near China. These exercises also included nuclear-capable missiles.

According to William Alberque, the director of strategy, technology, and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Russia is likely to have a higher threshold for using tactical nuclear weapons against Ukraine. This is because they fear it would escalate the conflict and result in direct intervention from the U.S. or U.K. Russia’s exact nuclear arsenal makeup is, obviously, top secret, but, as the FT report details, it is known they have land and sea nuclear-capable delivery systems. They also have versions that can be carried and delivered by aircraft.

The Russian nuclear deterrent (the largest by number in the world) is reportedly geared towards limited usage on battlefields in Europe and Asia. This is different from America’s approach, which focuses on longer-range “strategic” nuclear weapons. While not specifically detailed in the report, it was also revealed recently that Russia might be planning a space-based, anti-satellite, nuclear weapon system, too.

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