Before the end of April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country would respond in “lightning-fast” style if the UK, US and their allies crossed the line with military intervention in Ukraine. The 69-year-old has engaged in a series of sabre-rattling exercises to deter support for Kyiv, with the topic of nuclear weapons regularly being threatened in the direction of the West.
President Putin told Russian lawmakers a fortnight ago: “If someone intends to intervene in the ongoing events from the outside and create strategic threats for Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast.
“We have all the tools for this, things no one else can boast of having now. And we will not boast, we will use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that.”
According to the Federation of American Scientists, Moscow owns a stockpile of 5,977 nuclear weapons, marginally more than the combined total of 5,943 from members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
So, if Russia were to launch a nuclear strike against the West how could it respond?
If President Putin chose to fire a nuclear missile at the UK or a fellow NATO member it would amount to an assault on all 30 NATO entities due to Article 5 of its official charter.
Indeed, one nuclear attack would likely be met with another in response.
Robert Fox, Defence Editor of the London Evening Standard, told LBC’s Matthew Wright that such could be the speed of this response the West could wipe out the Russian cities of Moscow and St Petersburg in less than two minutes.
He said: “Nuclear blackmail is a very, very difficult game and I think the Russian generals know that.
“Anyone sensible in Putin’s military knows that because there are no winners there.
“Were he to use it, god help us. But St Petersburg and Moscow would be wiped out within 90 seconds!”
A fortnight ago the BBC’s Editor for Russia, Steve Rosenberg, tweeted that Russian state TV had broadcast footage which warned the UK that Moscow can “sink it forever” with a Sarmat ICBM or a 100-megaton missile that would spark a tsunami and turn the UK “into a radioactive wasteland”.
However, another foil to Russia’s threats is that the UK itself does have the necessary defences to shoot down a nuclear warhead.
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For example, it can make use of the US Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) – also known as the ‘star wars’ defence – to intercept and destroy such weapons.
The system was set up in 1984 under then-president Ronald Reagan, while the US and Soviet Union were still engaged in the Cold War.
Alternatively, the Government could opt to make use of the military’s Type 45 destroyer vessels, which could use their defensive capabilities to fend off any nuclear attack.
If it was deemed necessary, these ships could be placed in the Thames Estuary to defend London and the surrounding areas.
Will there be a nuclear war?
When President Putin raised Russia’s alert level for his deterrent forces to “special alert”, last March, it didn’t signal that he intends to use them at any point soon.
In fact, he has previously cautioned the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated and that such a conflict “would lead to the collapse of the entire civilization and maybe our planet”.
Western leaders are also acutely aware of the potential impacts a nuclear war could create and it’s the threat of this that has in part prevented NATO from physically joining the fight in Ukraine.