Shortly after launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the alert level for his country’s nuclear deterrents to be raised “to a special mode of combat duty”. Though the decision doesn’t mean the 69-year-old intends to use his stockpile, it still increased anxieties in the West, with the threat looming large today for world leaders.
Why wouldn’t Vladimir Putin nuke the UK?
Any attack launched by Russia on the UK would be interpreted as an assault against the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and all 30 of its members.
Article 5 of NATO’s official charter stipulates that if a country with membership status, such as the UK, is attacked, other allies must come to its aid.
Consequently, Russia would likely be initiating a new global conflict the fallout of which could be catastrophic for all parties.
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To date, it’s largely due to this that the military alliance has refused Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request for a no-fly zone above his country’s airspace.
Launching nuclear weapons towards the UK would also probably trigger a similar attack back in the direction of Moscow.
The resulting impacts of this would be incomprehensible and undoubtedly lead to millions of deaths as well as mass destruction.
Indeed, Putin himself cautioned the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated back in December 2018.
He said: “The danger of the situation is being downplayed. It now seems to be impossible, something without crucial importance, but at the same time if something like this would happen this would lead to the collapse of the entire civilization and maybe our planet.
“Unfortunately, we have this trend to underestimate the current situation. There are dangers, there are risks in our day-to-day lives.
“What are those risks? First and foremost, the collapse of the international system of arms control, of moving away from an arms race.”
One of Putin’s closest advisors, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, made similar comments last March, saying if a third world war were to happen it would be a “devastating nuclear war”.
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UK vs Russia nuclear weapons
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates Russia has the largest supply of nuclear weapons in the world.
In fact, Moscow is believed to own approximately 4,447 warheads – the devices that trigger a nuclear explosion – of which 1,588 are deployed on ballistic missiles and heavy bomber bases.
A further 977 strategic warheads and 1,912 nonstrategic warheads are kept in reserve by the Kremlin.
Though the UK possesses the fifth-greatest stockpile in the world, it’s significantly less than what Russia possesses.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, Britain holds 225 nuclear weapons.
If a nuclear weapon was fired at the UK, it could defend itself through the US Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) – also known as the ‘star wars’ defence – which could be used to intercept and destroy a warhead.
Alternatively, the Government can opt to make use of its military’s Type 45 destroyer vessels, which could use their defensive capabilities to fend off any nuclear attack.