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In light of the full-scale unprovoked war of aggression that the Russian Federation has waged against Ukraine, a number of countries have been providing military assistance to Ukraine.

The aggressor country (the Russian Federation) has expressed surprise and, at times, indignation at this fact. The dictator of the Russian Federation has made a number of open threats to attack supply convoys and has open stated that no weapons, including nuclear weapons, are off the table in response to any country making any moves thwarting the aggression.

A number of Russian political commentators have made claims that there is a war scenario in which Russia would contemplate the 1st strike with a nuclear weapon and it relies on the political leadership of Russia surviving the initial phases of a nuclear war by hiding out in bunkers in the Russia's far East. The claims are non-specific, but some of them include the following:

  • Russia has bunkers in the far East which can allow its residents to survive even direct hits by a nuclear weapon.
  • The depth of the bunkers is at least 1km. Some have claimed as much as 2kms.
  • The bunkers have the ability to maintain full range of communications even after a direct hit with a nuclear weapon and Putin himself already spends most of his time in one of those bunkers even while making virtual appearances on TV.

I am highly skeptical of these claims for a number of reasons. Among them are

  • The level of preparedness of the Russian armed forces, and overall military industry does not match the renown of the USSR's armed forces, simply because the army personal were 1st-class citizens in the USSR and they were one of the last-class citizens in the Russian Federation. Military industrial complex of the Russia Federation is in a disarray.
  • When trying to estimate how effectively public funds are spent in the Russian Federation, I compare the expenses on the 2014 Olympics and Russia's annual military budget. Both figures (the cost of the Olympics and Russia's annual military budget) are around $50 billion. $50 billion is the most expensive Olympics tab anywhere so far. And yet the level of preparedness of the Olympic games was abysmal. Even one of the 5 rings during the opening ceremony malfunctioned. There were also numerous reports that the athletes' living quarters did not meet some of the most basic accommodations (clean water, functioning toilets, etc.)
  • Given that $50 billion couldn't buy functioning Olympics games in Russia, I have difficulty seeing how it would be possible for Russia to build elaborate bunkers. After all, the $50 billion spent on military expenses have to cover all military expenses.

But my skepticism is just an opinion which motivates my actual question. Has the Russian Federation ever made a demonstration which makes claims of it having such bunkers true?

I understand that there plenty of possible reasons not to show them even if they do exist. But there is a clear reason to show them. Namely, demonstrating that the bunkers are real would make the threat of use of a nuclear weapon more credible.

So does anyone actually know if the bunkers have been shown to exist?

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    This doesn’t strike me as a political question. It’s a “what evidence is there for this published claim” question which is more appropriate for Skeptics
    – divibisan
    Apr 21 at 17:26
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    @divibisan it's a question about governments. and there is a standard practice on SE that just because a question can be ALSO asked somewhere else, it doesn't in itself mean that it can't be asked where it has been asked.
    – wrod
    Apr 21 at 17:34
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    @divibisan This is a great question. The fact that it could also be asked on Skeptics SE means nothing w.r.t. it being on topic here. could you please point me to the specific section in Help center where it supports your POV? The current question has "politics" written all over it and flashing in large red letters. Nuclear war, government bunkers, Russian Federation and the war in Ukraine and its global implications, etc. It has a great answer too! But I am interested in reading other answers as well. So VTR. Apr 22 at 14:41

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No, none confirmed.

I've been semi-casually researching the nuclear war preparedness of various countries for the past 12 years. "Various" being easily narrowed down to just a few countries, it's "none at all" for the rest. The ones with some preparedness include Russia, the US, Switzerland, Japan, China, Ukraine, Belarus, and the UK. Official information is very scarce.

Extensive underground supplies in Russia have been confirmed. These have been unofficially estimated as preparations for a roughly WWII-equivalent with nukes.

enter image description here

Human-habitable bunkers are much less clear. The existence of such bunkers has been officially confirmed, but the details have been not. There is unofficial information and hearsay about them. Please take everything below as uncertain.

A summary of unofficial data is as follows:

  • All of the bunkers were constructed by the Soviet Union, not the Russian Federation.
  • A total of 12 bunkers have been reported to exist within Russia. A further 2-4 in Soviet states, likely 1 in Ukraine.
  • Sustained full-time population capacity is estimated at roughly 5,000 per facility.

At least 2 bunkers are additionally protected by missile defense. The ABM treaty has specified two defense facilities per nation. One is around Moscow, another unclear. Russian defensive missiles are nuclear themselves.

The depth of the bunkers is estimated at 300-600 meters for the European plain and more for the mountains. 1-2 kilometers sounds unrealistic, unless it's for the Urals. enter image description here

The geothermal gradient varies by location, as the image shows. But overall, deeper than 1 km below a plain universally leads to ambient temperatures rising to 100F (35C) and above. Living conditions in such temperatures are not sustainable without constant air conditioning. While nuclear power is well sufficient for A/C, the systems themselves might fail over time. Soviet military engineering had a strong focus on "if everything fails" scenarios.

The most capable bunker-buster system in US service is the B-61/W-61 configuration, with the B-2 bomber required for delivery. That's a 350-400 kT maximum yield device. Its effective depth against underground structures can be estimated at between 140 meters and 175 meters.

There's no reason to build a superdeep bunker, when no weapons in service can reach a much shallower bunker. So the bunkers are most likely located at a depth where soil temperatures match the lower bound of comfort for humans without power. At 5C annual average at the surface, that's 400-450 meters for temperate zones and 500-600 for Siberia to have a temperature of 70F or 20C.

A few poorly installed toilets wouldn't kill a nuclear bunker, but it's extremely unlikely that modern Russia has built any new bunkers, given how much they already have to reuse, and the reduced probability of a global nuclear war.

P.S. As a side note, to address the scenario, Ukraine is not under any nuclear umbrella treaty. No nuclear state would be likely to sacrifice their own population over a loss of materiel. Bunkers would only come in play with a much heavier escalation.

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  • From what I was able to find online, a single 100megatons explosion can produce ~400meter deep crater. But I don't know how long they would have to wait to strike the same location for the 2nd time. 10 minutes? Half an hour?
    – wrod
    Apr 22 at 1:57
  • @wrod 10 minutes would probably be enough. But there's the massive opportunity cost of such an attack - defenses considered, one would have to build a dozen or more 100 MT warheads, and these are three-stage weapons, wasting a lot of limited supplies of plutonium. Then there's their size and the lack of delivery systems. One could use the same resources for 500-1000 regular 200 kT warheads on MIRV ICBM, and these can strike against enemy silos, reducing own casualties by millions.
    – HK-51
    Apr 22 at 2:39
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    “Mister President, we must not allow a mine shaft gap!”
    – Don Hosek
    Apr 22 at 3:51
  • @wrod, who has deployed 100 mt weapons? I don't think anyone ...
    – o.m.
    Apr 22 at 4:31
  • @o.m. it was an underground test. it produced a 400m deep crater. I don't know if anyone has them available or not. I can't find the link anymore. And since I was quoting from memory, I can't tell if I misremembered something or if it was an estimate rather than a test. I am now all of a sudden seeing a lot of articles on bunker busters that are speculating and very light on details.
    – wrod
    Apr 22 at 7:28

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