Where in the UK could Putin strike with nuclear weapons?

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Russia: Expert says Putin ‘trying to trade options for himself’

As the country in Europe sending the most military aid to Ukraine – and the second-most in the world behind only the US – the UK is one of Russia’s greatest international foes. Vladimir Putin has raised the spectre of nuclear war on multiple occasions since the invasion began, and last week declared he was not bluffing in light of recent defeats suffered by Russian ground forces. The same day, a former Kremlin official revealed the UK would be a target, prompting many to wonder where exactly a nuclear strike would hit.

Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on special alert soon after launching the invasion of Ukraine. 

Six months after the conflict began, with Ukrainian forces recapturing the Kharkiv region in a lightning offensive, the Russian president insisted he was not bluffing when threatening to use nuclear weapons in order to regain the upper hand in the war.

In an address last Wednesday, Putin said: “Some senior officials from Nato members have made remarks that it can be possible and acceptable to use weapons of mass destruction against Russia, that is nuclear weapons.

“I’d like to remind those who make those statements: our country also has various high-impact weapons, in some ways more powerful than those of Nato countries and in case of a threat against our country’s territorial integrity, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

Vladimir Putin's UK nuclear targets

Putin insisted he wasn’t bluffing about using nuclear weapons, with the UK a possible target (Image: GETTY, Russian Defence Ministry)

Likely nuclear strike targets in the UK

The most likely targets for a Russian nuclear strike on British soil (Image: EXPRESS)

As Russia’s number two NATO enemy – supplying the second-most military aid to Ukraine after the US – the UK could be a target and has been threatened before.

On May 1, on Russian state TV Putin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov warned the UK could be “plunged into the sea” by an underwater nuclear strike. 

More recently, ex-adviser to Putin Sergey Markov claimed UK cities could be a nuclear target for the Russian president, speaking on the BBC’s Today programme last Wednesday.

He said: “For Western countries, for you, British listeners, I would say that Vladimir Putin told us he would be ready to use nuclear weapons against Western countries, including nuclear weapons against Great Britain.”

Mr Markov added “your cities will be target…” before being cut off during the live radio broadcast.

Modern Russian warheads in current deployment are capable of striking practically anywhere in the UK. The Federation of American Scientists estimates Russia has 15 nuclear bases from which weapons could feasibly be launched towards the UK.

READ MORE: Russia has expelled a Japanese official accused of spying

RS-24 Yars strategic nuclear missile

Russia’s strategic nuclear missiles are often flouted during Victory Day parades (Image: GETTY)

US nuclear bases map

The US controls the largest share of NATO’s nuclear arsenal (Image: EXPRESS)

The question of where exactly a Russian nuclear strike would target has been discussed since the Cold War. National Archive documents unearthed by the Daily Star revealed Edward Heath’s Government 50 years ago plotted 106 locations deemed to be “probable nuclear targets”.

These included major population centres such as London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Coventry and Sheffield. If dropped in central London, just one Soviet-era Tsar Bomba – the most powerful nuclear warhead ever designed – would cause almost six million fatalities, the fallout from the blast engulfing Reading, Bedford, Southend and Brighton.

Nuclear weapons have only ever been dropped on civilian population centres twice in history – when the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, resulting in as many as 230,000 casualties.

Military facilities are also highly likely targets, the Cold War plans singling out 23 RAF bases, 14 USAF bases, 10 radar stations, eight military command centres and 13 Royal Navy bases. Although far fewer are in operation today after decades of budget cuts, forces have been consolidated into a handful of crucial installations extremely likely to be targeted. 

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London nuclear blast radius

Illustration of the blast radius were a Tsar Bomba to fall on London (Image: nuclearsecrecy.com)

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Russia has an estimated 4,447 nuclear warheads, of which 1,588 are currently deployed. A total of 812 of these are on land-based ballistic missiles, 576 are on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and up to 200 are stationed at heavy bomber bases.

A further 977 strategic warheads and 1,912 non-strategic warheads are thought to be stockpiled in reserve by the Kremlin.

On Sunday night, speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said his country had warned highly placed Russian officials directly of the US response if Putin were to follow through on his threats of a nuclear strike.

He said: “If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia. The United States will respond decisively.” Although Mr Sullivan did not disclose details, he said the US had already “spelled-out in greater detail exactly what that would mean” to Moscow. 

The largest nuclear arsenals in the world

Russia maintains the largest nuclear arsenal in the world (Image: EXPRESS)

However, Putin’s threats rely on Russia’s nuclear arsenal being in working order – something a former British Army officer suspected may not be the case.

Speaking to GB News earlier this month, Lt Colonel Stuart Crawford said: “On the tactical nuclear weapon front, it is well-known that the nuclear warheads have been in storage since the 1990s. No one knows if they are well-maintained or whether they still work.”

The colonel assured viewers that NATO surveillance systems would spot Russian preparations for the use of nuclear weapons long before they were launched.

He added: “The warheads are not sitting on missiles or in artillery systems waiting to be delivered. They have to be outloaded, and as soon as they are loaded out from their arsenals, bunkers, and depots, the eyes in the sky will see that happening.”



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