Putin’s nuclear targets predicted – experts weigh in on damage

Putin slammed over 'foolish' tactical nuclear bomb threat

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Experts have predicted what kind of targets Russian President Vladimir Putin will go for if he launches a nuclear attack amid the war in Ukraine, and have weighed in on the damage a devastating strike may cause. It comes after the Russian leader warned in a speech that he is “not bluffing” after threatening to draw for his nuclear arsenal amid the conflict, which first began back in mid-February. The latest figures from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists indicate that Russia had a total of around 4,447 warheads as of 2022, including 1,588 strategic warheads deployed on strategic heavy bomber bases. The Kremlin also reportedly has 977 strategic warheads in reserve and 1,912 non-strategic warheads in reserve. 

Lawrence Freedman, a war studies expert at King’s College London, has claimed that the Russian President is more likely to target critical infrastructure as opposed to cities, in conventional strikes.

However, strategic long-range warheads are capable of destroying entire cities, although it is thought that Putin will be more likely to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, which are short-range and designed for battlefield use.

And in a blog post, Prof Freedman wrote that Putin may target the uninhabited Snake Island in a nuclear attack to intimidate the West and show off his firepower in a horror warning. 

This Black Sea outpost was taken by Russia not long after Putin sent troops into UK, which has since been retaken and become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

British security think tank Rusi argues that Russia’s tactical arsenal is limited in range to around 300 miles, while its strategic nuclear missile has an alarming 3,000-mile range. 

But even a low-yield nuclear bomb could have potentially devastating impacts reaching far and wide, such as radiation from the blast causing long-term health impacts for survivors. And even if Russia was to only target Ukraine, there are fears that radioactive fallout could contaminate the environment and potentially float across Europe and Asia.

Dr Rod Thornton, a security expert at King’s College London told Forbes that this could backfire as the radioactive material drifted back over Russia and affected its citizens. Because of this, he noted that Moscow would probably use a weapon designed to minimize fallout.

But Putin has also warned that those in support of Ukraine also may “face consequences that you have never faced in your history”, there are fears Putin may be tempted to use his nuclear weapons on targets outside Ukraine too. 

If the Russian President sticks to his word, he may use one of his six “super-weapons” on a western nation, such as the Sarmat II intercontinental ballistic missile, dubbed “Satan II” by NATO. 

It is capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads and can hit targets in the US and Europe. Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s space agency, has said: “This is a missile that is much more powerful than other strategic weapons, including the Minuteman-III missile, which is in service with the United States.”

And worryingly, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a nuclear expert from Cambridge University, believes we are “getting closer” to the point where Putin may actually follow through with his threats.

He told Express.co.uk: “I think Putin is clinging on by his fingernails and will say anything to justify whatever he does to stave off defeat in Ukraine. Add this to the forced annexation of 4 regions and we are getting closer to when/where Putin thinks he can use nuclear weapons.”

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But CIA director William Burns told CBS News Monday that the threat may not be as imminent as some experts fear. He said: We don’t see any practical evidence today in the U.S. intelligence community that he’s moving closer to actual use, that there’s an imminent threat of using tactical nuclear weapons. 

“What we have to do is take it very seriously, watch for signs of actual preparations.”

And if an attack was launched, it would be far more devastating than the notable nuclear strikes of the past.

Tara Drozdenko, the director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, told Insider: “Modern weapons are 20 to 30 times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If the US and Russia launched everything that they had, it could potentially be a civilization-ending event.”

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