NATO also has nukes, France warns Russia's Putin as Ukraine war enters Day 2

Feb 25, 2022 01:35 PM IST

Russia-Ukraine crisis: As recently as December last year Vladimir Putin indicated his willingness to use nuclear missiles in response to what he sees as the West's threat.

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine enters a second day - at least 137 died in yesterday's fighting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said - concerns are being raised over the significant threat posed by nuclear weapons available to both the United States and Russia, as well as other western powers in the region - the United Kingdom and France.                                                                   

TOPSHOT - Ukrainian military vehicles move past Independence square in central Kyiv on February 24, 2022. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)(AFP)
TOPSHOT - Ukrainian military vehicles move past Independence square in central Kyiv on February 24, 2022. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)(AFP)

On Thursday US President Joe Biden addressed the possibility of nuclear strikes that seemed implicit in Russia's 'threat' - President Vladimir Putin had warned of "the greatest consequences in history" if any country were to interfere.

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"No idea what he (Putin) is threatening. I know what he has done," Biden said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was more direct and said Putin's statement was tantamount to a threat to use nuclear weapons. 

Le Drian also warned Putin NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, an intergovernmental military bloc that Ukraine is pushing to join despite Russia's reservations - too has nukes.

Also read: What prompted Putin's invasion of Ukraine, Russia's global defiance 

In the back-and-forth between Russia and NATO, as recently as December last year Putin indicated willingness to use nuclear missiles in response to what he sees as the West's threat.

Those comments were specifically on intermediate-range nuclear weapons, which have a range of between 500 and 5,500 km and have been banned in Europe since a 1987 treaty. The US, in 2019, withdrew from that treaty, which was what prompted Russia's belligerent stand.

How many nukes do either side of this conflict have?

Ukraine surrendered a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, built up during its time as part of the Soviet Republic, in 1994 when it signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Today it has none.

Russia has one of the world's biggest (if not biggest) nuclear arsenal. 

The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a US-based nonprofit global security group combating nuclear threats - estimates Putin has about 6,200 nuclear warheads, of which around 1,600 are ‘deployed strategic nuclear warheads’.

The US has about 3,750 (with another 150-200 deployed in five NATO countries), according to the NTI. UK and France have about 500 between them.

The threat of nuclear missiles

Just one nuclear missile could do catastrophic damage to the world today.

Chernobyl, the site of the horrific meltdown in 1986, and which remains uninhabitable nearly four decades on - is a sobering reminder of its capability. 

Chernobyl now has been captured by Russian forces.

A more recent nuclear disaster - the meltdown in Japan's Fukushima in 2011- was not the result of a military conflict, but it was as terrible. The entire area, including parts of the sea, are still radioactive

According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a Nobel Prize-winning group working to outlaw and eliminate nukes, just one bomb (exploded in a city) can kill millions.

The fallout, in a conflict where both sides have nuclear weapons, could be catastrophic, particularly since resulting waste will leave the area uninhabitable and have disastrous environmental effects.

With input from Reuters, AP

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    Chandrashekar is a Senior Editor at Hindustan Times. A journalist with 11+ years across print and digital media, he also has degrees in Sociology and Economics. He has worked in the political, business, sports, and entertainment news spaces, but is happiest just watching football.

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