Russia is five weeks into its war with Ukraine, which started when troops invaded on Feb. 24. According to numerous reports, Russian President Vladimir Putin took cover in a nuclear command bunker in the Ural Mountains.
Here are five things to know.
1. Not 1 bunker, but 2 luxury bunkers for Putin
Russia has two vast bunker complexes built underneath mountains, including one housing a key nuclear doomsday command system, The Drive reported.
This information was reportedly released by the Kremlin, the seat of Russia’s government. The Kremlin released a transcript of a Nov. 11, 2020 meeting between Putin, senior defense and other government officials, and representatives of Russia’s defense industries. They were making decisions about the modernization of the country’s nuclear command and control infrastructure. During the talk, Putin disclosed that work on a new hardened strategic command post, possibly a bunker buried deep underground, was nearing completion.
The fully-equipped bunkers can withstand a nuclear strike, according to reports. During the meeting, Putin outlined steps that he felt should be taken to make sure that Russia’s nuclear command and control architecture remains intact, “even in the event of a nuclear strike,” thus ensuring the country could launch a retaliatory strike if necessary.
2. Bunker improvements
The meeting focused on improvements made to the bunkers. According to Putin, the improvements were made to multiple “stationary and mobile command posts” in use across the country. The “analytical and operational capabilities have been expanded, including in terms of information support, monitoring and situation analysis,” he explained, adding that “all command posts can receive comprehensive updates in real-time and use them to assess the situation and make substantiated decisions.”
Putin continued, “All equipment, hardware and communication systems of the nuclear forces control systems are regularly upgraded yet remain as simple and reliable as a Kalashnikov rifle,” referring to Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK-47 assault rifle. Kalashnikov was a Soviet and Russian lieutenant general, inventor, military engineer, writer, and small arms designer.
Putin emphasized a need to ensure the survivability of the country’s nuclear command and control infrastructure and said the bunkers would provide this.
“We are aware that a lot depends on the survivability of these systems and their ability to continue operating in a combat environment,” he said during the meeting. “They have told me that the creation of an absolutely secure facility for controlling strategic nuclear forces, among others, is nearing completion, and that it will have a very high safety margin.”
4. Background of the bunkers
The construction of both bunkers reportedly started in the late 1970s. The Russians have been “very tight-lipped about this complex,” reported The Drive.
“The project has been variously described by present and former Russian officials as a mining site, a repository for Russian treasures, a food storage area, a dump for nuclear materials and a bunker for Russia’s leaders in case of nuclear war,” according to a report from The New York Times.
Putin’s bunker is believed to be in Siberia, located in the district of Ongudaysky, close to the borders of Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. And it is reportedly located in the mountainous region of the Altai Republic, which is six-and-a-half hours from Moscow by plane.
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5. Who is in the bunker with Putin?
Unconfirmed reports of Putin’s whereabouts and the whereabouts of his family have become the subject of intense interest since he invaded Ukraine.
Putin himself is located at the bunker, according to some international media.
His two daughters, Maria and Katia, are both believed to be at the bunker, Spanish national daily newspaper Marca reported.
Page Six, the New York Post’s self-described “titan of gossip,” reported that Putin’s mistress, Alina Kabaeva, 38, and their four young children, are allegedly hiding “in a very private and very secure chalet somewhere in Switzerland — for now, at least.”
“Alina has two young boys and twin girls with Putin who were born in Switzerland,” a source told Page Six. “The kids all have Swiss passports, and I imagine she does also.”
A highly decorated Olympic gold-winning gymnast, Kabaeva went on to become a member of parliament for eight years, and in 2014 was appointed by the Kremlin to run the state-owned National Media Group, with a reported salary of $10 million a year.
Putin has a grandson who is at his bunker. Putin’s 30-year marriage to former flight attendant Lyudmila Shkrebneva ended in 2013.
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media after joint military exercises at Chebarkul testing range on Aug. 17, 2007. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)/Photo: Russian made Mi-8 helicopters fly during a dress rehearsal Aug. 13, 2007, for a massive joint military exercise by the two former Cold War rivals, the first on Russia’s territory in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia’s Ural Mountains. (AP Photo )