NATO leaders concerned as Putin readies world’s largest nuclear arsenal

Concerns that Russian leader Vladimir Putin could order a nuclear strike on Ukraine are drowning among Western leaders.

The UK's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was in Washington this week to discuss this issue, and Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, told Sky News that the topics covered at the meeting were "beyond belief".

One of the chief concerns is the sheer size of Russia ’s nuclear arsenal – which according to an estimate from the Federation of American Scientists is the biggest single nuclear stockpile on Earth.

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Russia is estimated to have 5,977 viable nuclear warheads. This compares to the 5,428 owned by the US. By contrast, France has 290, and the UK just 225.

While data from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [BAS] puts a slightly lower figure on Moscow's stockpile, it still says says that of its 4,447 warheads, over 1,500 are currently at the ready on "ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases".

The BAS report also notes that an "approximate additional 977 strategic warheads, along with 1,912 non-strategic warheads" is held in readiness for emergencies.

What constitutes an “emergency,” in Putin’s eyes, is open to interpretation.

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Putin recently threatened that he would use nuclear weapons if "the territorial integrity of our country is threatened".

He added that his remarks were "not a bluff" and that his nation had "various means of destruction".

At the end of September, Putin formally annexed Kherson – making it part of Russia – and immediately placed the city and the surrounding territory under martial law.

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Now the region’s Russian-installed leaders are racing to evacuate the civilian population, with up to up to 60,000 people being relocated deeper into Russia ahead of an expected Ukrainian offensive.

Would a Ukrainian strike on what Putin regards as the “Russian province”of Kherson qualify as a threat to Russia’s territorial integrity?

Only Putin knows for sure.

And that is why NATO chiefs are watching the unfolding situation very closely.

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