Putin Puts Russian Nuclear Forces On Special Alert

Rs-24 Yars ICBM
The RS-24 Yars is a Russian road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.
Credit: Russia Ministry of Defense

President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear forces to assume a “special mode” of alert on Feb. 27 in response to economic sanctions and aggressive statements by NATO members against his country. 

“Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly economic actions against our country, but leaders of major NATO countries are making aggressive statements about our country,” Putin said in a meeting with Russian’s defense minister and chief of the armed forces. 

“So I order to move Russia’s deterrence forces to a special mode of duty,” Putin said. 

The statement echoed threatening remarks by Putin in a Feb. 24 address that launched a Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history,” Putin said. 

But it was not immediately clear what Putin meant by ordering his nuclear forces to a higher level of alert. 

“It is still unclear what Putin’s [decision] to move Russia’s deterrent forces to a special regime of duty means,” tweeted Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). Kristensen also noted that Russia’s strategic nuclear forces are always on alert. “Is [the special alert status] about personnel, readiness, or deployments?”

As of early 2022, the FAS estimates that Russia has 4,477 nuclear warheads, including 1,588 deployed and 2,889 in reserve. 

Despite Putin’s threat, the U.S. government will continue to help the Ukrainian military, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters. U.S. defense officials are still analyzing what Putin’s language about a “special mode of duty” means.

DOD is confident “we have the ability to defend the homeland and defend our allies and partners, and that includes through strategic deterrence,” the defense official says.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.