Russo-Ukrainian War 5/1/22

An alleged hypersonic ‘Avangard’ glide vehicle ICBM launched in December, 2018 (Image via Russian Ministry of Defense)

Serious doubt has been cast on Russia’s strategic forces after repeated calls for Western drawbacks have been opposed by mounting support for Ukraine. Across the NATO alliance, nations have been intensifying their donations of heavy weapons. These shipments have been met with weekly threats of nuclear armageddon, both by high-ranking Russian officials and reactionary state media.

Per the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, $8.5 billion of Russia’s $65.1 billion 2019 defense budget was spent on nuclear weapons. Though the number may seem high, it pales in comparison with the U.S.’ own nuclear spending, which at $35.4 billion, is more than half of Russia’s total defense budget.

Such a difference isn’t unusual; no nation on the planet has any semblance of military parity with the United States, conventional or otherwise. Countries like China, Britain, and France, maintain nuclear arsenals in the low hundreds.

Yet somehow, with a fraction of the U.S.’ budget, Russia claims to maintain a strategic force of 1,588 warheads, with a total nuclear arsenal of 5,976 weapons. Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal claims to be fully prepared for deployment, despite being burdened with the responsibilities of maintaining a nuclear triad (Britain, by comparison, with a higher nuclear expenditure than Russia, maintains only 225 nuclear weapons, all of which are delivered by Britain’s Vanguard-class submarine fleet. Given the costs and complexity of maintaining nuclear weapons, a few theories exist to attempt to explain the funding gap.

For one, Russia is an illiberal society. Many scientists and innovators do not receive exceptional treatment and rewarding salaries, which could explain a portion of the $8.5-35.4 billion difference. Disenfranchisement in the Russian Federation affects all classes of Russia’s scientific community, to which the United States has opened doors of asylum, reminiscent of World War II’s Operation Paperclip, which birthed NASA out of the mastermind of the V-2 rocket.

More differences can be explained by Russia’s existence as a rentier state, so rich in natural resources that many of the necessities it procures for its nuclear program exist out of sight.

However, these points are not enough to explain such a high, billion-dollar gap. Though in no way are Russia’s nuclear forces not enough to devastate the United States and Europe, doubt must be cast on Russia’s continued nuclear fearmongering, particularly on U.S. allies shipping goods to Ukraine. And, if preliminary reports and speculations are true, Putin’s mental health cannot be allowed to jeopardize international law. Mutually assured destruction, after all, is rendered meaningless when one side has lost reason and hope, both of which continue to slip from Putin’s grasp.

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