With a yield estimated at 50 million tons of TNT, the Soviet Union's October 30, 1961 detonation over Novaya Zemlya Island is the largest thermonuclear blast of all time Ö ten times greater than all the explosives used in World War II, including Fat Man and Little Boy. Today the former Soviet Union has been consigned to the dustbin of history, but the Russian Federation remains, a wounded giant facing economic collapse, internal turmoil, and chaos on its borders.
The Russians are are all too familiar with Islamic radicalism. For years they have been fighting bloody battles with separatists in Chechnya, and thousands of Russian soldiers lost their lives to Muhajadeen during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. They have used the "War on Terrorism" to increase their assaults against Chechnya, and are presently hearing little international outcry. They have also continued to provide military support to the former Soviet Republics; if they were to withdraw from Tajikistan today, it's likely that nation would fall under Islamic rule within weeks.
Nobody is quite sure just how many bombs there are in the former Soviet Union: Some 700 to 800 tons of highly enriched uranium and 150 to 200 tons of weapons-grade plutonium are stored in crumbling warehouses protected by combination locks and by guards who frequently go months without paychecks. As a result corruption is rife. In 1997 Alexander Darichev and Alexandr Pogrebevskij, ethnic Russians from Lithuania, were arrested after trying to sell 40 Stinger missiles to undercover U.S. agents; had that sale gone through, they claimed they would also be able to provide "small nuclear devices." Western programs have begun to provide financial support and alternative employment for the skilled experts and technicians needed to maintain Russia's nuclear industries and weapons, but many fear these are too little and too late to deal with the problem.
The infrastructure which protects Russia's nuclear weapons is crumbling, and, alas, so is everything else in Russia. At present the country is teetering on the brink of neo-feudalism. This has led to all sorts of political radicalism - nationalism, fascism, Communism, and all kinds of other -isms. If one of these radical groups were to get their hands on a nuclear device, they might well decide to deploy it against their enemies. In 1995 Chechen rebels planted some highly radioactive Cesium-137 in a Moscow park; had they used that Cesium to create a crude "dirty bomb" by packing radioactive shavings around a stick of dynamite, they could have contaminated a large area with radiation. There are over 70 different languages spoken in Russia, and at least that many ethnic and religious groups; combined with economic privation, that adds up to a whole lot of grudges, ill will, and potential flashpoints.
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