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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

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This profile summarizes the major arms control agreements, regimes, initiatives, and practices that Russia subscribes to and those that it does not. It also describes the major weapons programs, policies, and holdings of Russia, as well as its proliferation record.

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Biological Weapons Convention
Chemical Weapons Convention
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)
-Recognized as one of five nuclear-weapon states.


Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
-Party to four of the five protocols.[1]

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty
Outer Space Treaty
Ottawa Mine Ban Convention
-Stockpiles some 26.5 million antipersonnel landmines.[2]
- - -
- - -

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Australia Group: Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list.

Missile Technology Control Regime: Member.

Nuclear Suppliers Group: Member.

Wassenaar Arrangement: Member.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol: Signed in 2000, but Russia has yet to bring the protocol into force.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism: Co-founder with the United States.

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Participant.

Proliferation Security Initiative: Participant.

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673: Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

Major Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

Biological Weapons:
Despite ratifying the Biological Weapons Convention, the Soviet Union apparently maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever. In an August 2005 report, the U.S. Department of State asserted that “the United States is concerned that Russia maintains a mature offensive [biological weapons] program.”[3] The report noted, “a substantial amount of dual-use research conducted in recent years has legitimate biodefense applicability, but also could be used to further an offensive program.” Russia has disputed the allegations.

Chemical Weapons:
Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russia declared possessing approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world. As of May 2007, Russia had destroyed 20 percent of this stockpile and is supposed to eliminate the rest by 2012. However, all indications are that Russia will not complete its destruction activities on time.

A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production. The United States claims Moscow has not provided a full accounting of its chemical weapons activities, particularly the alleged production of a new generation of nerve agents known as Novichoks.[4]


  • Ballistic Missiles: Russia has an extensive, albeit aging, force of silo- and mobile-land based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In a July 2007 report, Moscow claimed to have 509 deployed ICBMs, most of which are Soviet-era systems. Many of those missiles are nearing the end of their service lives, and the intended mainstay of Russia’s future ICBM force is the Topol-M or SS-27. As of July 2007, Russia stated it had fielded 47 Topol-Ms, including three mobile launchers. Russia also maintains a few hundred submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) that date back to the Soviet period. Moscow, however, is working to develop a new SLBM, the Bulava. Russian leaders also vaguely say they are developing other missile-related systems, such as a hypersonic glide vehicle, that will be capable of penetrating anti-missile systems, which the United States is developing and deploying.Under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Moscow is barred from possessing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Russia has abided by this prohibition, but the Kremlin also has suggested it might withdraw from the accord because its neighbors are acquiring types of missiles that are forbidden to Russia. In October 2007, the United States and Russia called upon other countries to forswear missiles banned by the INF Treaty.

  • Cruise Missiles: The Russian military possesses three types of air-launched cruise missiles and two submarine-launched cruise missile systems.

Nuclear Weapons:
Estimates of Russia’s total nuclear forces, including tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons, vary greatly. In July 2007, Russia claimed 4,237 total deployed strategic warheads under the terms of the 1991 START nuclear reductions agreement. It is generally estimated that Russia also may have up to 3,000 tactical nuclear warheads in service. In addition, Russia may have as many as 8,000 to 10,000 nuclear warheads in reserve.

In 1993, Russia abandoned the Soviet Union’s previous pledge not to use nuclear weapons first. Moscow has reiterated past pledges not to use nuclear weapons against states that do not possess them, but it also has warned that it might use nuclear weapons if other responses failed to “repulse armed aggression.”

All told, the Soviet Union conducted 715 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Aug. 29, 1949, and the last test took place Oct. 24, 1990.

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium, for weapons purposes. The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994. As with Russia’s warhead stockpile, there is a great deal of uncertainty about its holdings of fissile material. One independent 2007 report estimates that Russia possibly has 640 metric tons of HEU, which could vary by as much as 300 metric tons, and 120 to 170 metric tons of plutonium stockpiled for weapons.[5] With the United States, Russia is implementing a program to downblend 500 metric tons of Russian excess HEU into reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs. That project is supposed to be completed in 2013. The two countries, however, have yet to begin disposing of 68 metric tons of excess plutonium (34 tons apiece) under an agreement finalized in 2000.

Conventional Weapons Trade:
Russia trails only the United States in supplying conventional arms abroad. Between 1999 and 2006, Russia committed to selling some $54 billion in weapons to other states.[6] China and India are two long-term and leading purchasers of Russian arms, but Algeria and Venezuela in 2006 sealed multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Russia. Western governments have criticized Russia for not being discriminating enough in its arms transactions, citing transfers to Iran and Sudan.

Proliferation Record

The Russian government and Russian entities have repeatedly been charged by the U.S. government and independent analysts as aiding nuclear and missile programs in states of concern. For instance, Russia is helping construct Iran’s Bushehr reactor and offered to supply fuel for the reactor’s operation. Although these activities are legal, the United States contends Iran may use the project as cover or glean know-how from it for an alleged illicit nuclear weapons program. In addition, Russia has provided nuclear reactor fuel to India, defying a Nuclear Suppliers Group rule that bans such provisions because India does not subject its entire nuclear enterprise to IAEA safeguards. In the missile realm, the United States asserts Russian entities have helped spread missile technologies to “China, India, Iran, and other countries.”[7]

The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, are seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and know-how for other regimes or non-state actors. Consequently, the United States and other countries have many programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia, as well as other former Soviet states, secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Russia is currently implementing two nuclear reductions treaties with the United States. Although Moscow and Washington concluded several years ago the nuclear cuts required by the 1991 START accord, the two governments continue to rely on that treaty’s extensive verification regime to exchange information, visit, and monitor each other’s nuclear weapons complexes. These activities help the two countries assess implementation of their latest nuclear arms agreement, the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which did not include verification measures. Under SORT, the two countries are supposed to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by Dec. 31, 2012. However, the treaty limit expires that same day, freeing both countries to build up their nuclear forces if they choose to do so. Russia is pressing the United States to negotiate a new arms reduction agreement with lower limits on both warheads and delivery vehicles, but the Bush administration has stated it does not want an additional treaty.

Russia has threatened to suspend implementation of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty on Dec. 12, 2007. Moscow contends that NATO countries, led by the United States, are unjustifiably delaying ratification of a 1999 revised version of the treaty and, thereby, endangering Russian security. NATO members are conditioning ratification on Russia fulfilling commitments to withdraw its military forces from Georgia and Moldova. The Kremlin says the issues should not be linked. Meanwhile, Russia continues to implement another European security instrument, the Open Skies Treaty, which facilitates unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territories of all states-parties.

The Russian government has signed protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. It has not signed the protocols for the African, Central Asian, and Southeast Asian zones.

At the 65-member Conference on Disarmament, Russia has supported negotiation of a fissile material cutoff treaty, but has made negotiation of a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space a top priority. The United States has opposed this effort, and no negotiations have occurred on either subject over the past several years. Russia indicates it will submit a draft outer space treaty to the Geneva body in 2008.

Within the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), Russia has resisted a U.S.-sponsored initiative to negotiate restrictions on the use of anti-vehicle landmines, but reluctantly consented to CCW negotiations on cluster munitions. Moscow has declined to participate in a Norwegian-led effort outside the CCW to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions that “cause unacceptable harm to civilians.” Moreover, Russia has showed little enthusiasm for negotiating a United Nations treaty to establish standards for the international arms trade.

Russia supports creation of and has offered to host an international nuclear fuel bank to help persuade countries to forgo development of their own national nuclear fuel production capabilities, which also could be used to produce nuclear-bomb material.

Russia is participating in the so-called six-party process that is supposed to lead to North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. On Iran, Moscow is urging Tehran to be transparent about its nuclear activities, while opposing Western government attempts to toughen sanctions on Iran.

-Researched and prepared by Alex Bollfrass.


1. Russia has not ratified Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War. It also has not approved an amendment that extends the convention’s application beyond just interstate conflicts to intrastate conflicts.

2. International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2006, July 2006, 1,236 pp.

3. U.S. Department of State, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments,” August 2005, 108 pp.

4. Ibid.

5. International Panel on Fissile Materials, Global Fissile Material Report, 2007, October 2007, 164 pp.

6. Grimmett, Richard F., Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1999-2006, Congressional Research Service, September 26, 2007, 92 pp.

7. U.S. Department of State, Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments, August 2005, 108 pp.