Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the weekend that his nation’s nuclear forces should be put on high alert, raising fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to nuclear escalation.
Here is how Russia’s chain of command would work in the event of a nuclear weapon launch.
WHO DECIDES TO LAUNCH RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
A 2020 document called “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence” says the Russian president takes the decision to use nuclear weapons.
A small briefcase, known as the Cheget, is kept close to the president at all times, linking him to the command and control network of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. The Cheget does not contain a nuclear launch button but rather transmits launch orders to the central military command – the General Staff.
IF PUTIN GIVES THE NUCLEAR ORDER, WHAT HAPPENS?
The Russian General Staff has access to the launch codes and has two methods of launching nuclear warheads. It can send authorisation codes to individual weapons commanders, who would then execute the launch procedures. There is also a back-up system, known as Perimetr, which allows the General Staff to directly initiate the launch of land-based missiles, bypassing all the immediate command posts.
DID PUTIN’S ‘HIGH ALERT’ ORDER MAKE A LAUNCH MORE LIKELY?
Putin said at the weekend that the nation’s nuclear forces should be put on high alert. The following day, Russia’s defence ministry announced that its nuclear missile forces had been placed on “enhanced” combat duty.
The phrase enhanced, or special, combat duty does not appear in Russia’s nuclear doctrine, leaving military experts puzzled over what it might mean.
Pavel Podvig, a senior researcher at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, said on Twitter that the order might have activated Russia’s nuclear command and control system, essentially opening communication channels for any eventual launch order. Alternatively, he said it might just mean the Russians added staff to their nuclear facilities.