Satellite Reveals Upgrades to Potential Nuclear Site

An image from a report from the Federation of American Scientists on the upgrade of a nuclear weapons storage facility in Kaliningrad. Photograph: Digital Globe via Getty Images

Satellite images have revealed an extensive two-year overhaul to a site scientists believe could serve as a bunker for nuclear weapon storage in Russia.

The images show the site, located in the Kaliningrad region about 50 kilometers from the Polish border, being excavated, renovated and then covered up again.

The Federation of American Scientists announced the discovery on Monday, adding the works raised questions about the site’s operational status.

Federation nuclear information project director Hans Kristensen said the storage facility had all the fingerprints of typical Russian nuclear weapons storage sites.

“Does it now, has it in the past, or will it in the future store nuclear warheads for Russian dual-capable non-strategic weapon systems deployed in the region? If so, does this signal a new development in Russian nuclear weapons strategy in Kaliningrad, or is it a routine upgrade of an aging facility for an existing capability?” he said.

The satellite images did not conclusively answer such questions, Kristensen said. However, he added the features of the site suggested it could potentially serve Russian Air Force or Navy dual-capable forces.

Work on the bunker began in 2016, with a roof for the complex added earlier this year.

“Its a site we have been monitoring for quite some time and there have been and there have been some upgrades in the past but nothing as dramatic as this one. This is the first time we’ve seen one of the nuclear bunkers being excavated and apparently renovated,” Kristensen said.

Kaliningrad is one of the host cities in this year’s World Cup and borders Nato-member nations Poland and Lithuania. The region is already one of most militarised in Russia with its stockpile of short-range missiles.

The site’s renovation goes directly against calls from Nato, who had previously urged Russia to move its nuclear weapons further away from member borders.

Kristensen said Russia maintained that nuclear warheads are kept in “central” storage believed to be inside mainland Russia.

The Kremlin had not yet commented on reports of any modernization occurring at the Kaliningrad site, but had previously defended its right to deploy weapons there.

The Kaliningrad site had been previously upgraded between 2002 and 2010 when the outer security perimeter was cleared.

Russia’s exact number of nuclear warheads remains a state secret, but the Federation of American scientists estimated Russia possessed 7,300 total nuclear warheads, of which 4,500 were strategically operational. The United States had 4,000 operational nuclear warheads.

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