The newly appointed commander of the Air Force — Col. Gen. Anatoly Kornukov — announced yesterday that nuclear weapons had been removed from a strategic air base located just 10 kilometers from the border with Chechnya. Kornukov was on a tour of his units in the North Caucasus Military District to check their preparedness to counter a terrorist attack, because large quantities of air force munitions and materiel are stored at bases near Chechnya. Kornukov said that the nuclear weapons had been pulled out of the base at Mozdok, in North Ossetia-Alania. Four Tu-95MS strategic bombers remain at the base, but Kornukov said that they too would be removed "if a threat arises."
The Tu-95MS has been in service for fourteen years but is the latest variant of an aircraft that first flew in 1953. Although powered with turbo-prop rather than pure jet engines, the large plane is nearly as fast as the American B-52. Each can carry sixteen nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Kornukov said that should the Mozdok planes be needed for their nuclear mission, they would be armed at other airfields. (Russian media, February 5)
Concern about the security of Russian nuclear weapons since the break-up of the Soviet Union and the deterioration of the Russian armed forces has been widespread in the West. Russian officials responsible for safeguarding these weapons have been particularly sensitive to foreign criticism. They have insisted that nuclear weapons or materiel would not fall into the wrong hands but have been reluctant to reveal any details of their security programs. Kornukov’s announcement at least shows one positive step.
Military to Rob Colonel Pyotr to Pay Lieutenant Pavel.