Scandinavia’s Nuclear Threat: Olenegorsk 2 – the frightening nuclear fairy tale of the Kola Peninsula

By Ruslan Ustrakhanov

Olenegenorsk 2 or, in local dialect, “Tsar City” is a small settlement in the Murmansk region. Until recently, it was a completely closed territory; to merely speak of it was considered a criminal offence, a disclosure of state secrets.


Even now it is never mentioned in the media. One exception can be found in a regional publication of the Murmansk region. In an edition of the “Murmansk Bulletin” dated the 23rd December 2008, there is an article – “Tsar City – The True Fairy Tale of the Kola Peninsula.” Though under oath, the mother of a soldier posted to a military unit in Olenegorsk 2, describes the place as “a fairy tale come true” at the centre of the Kola Peninsula. Everything that went on here was a great secret which the “Tsar City” would not even reveal to her.


“Here you learn the art of keeping military secrets” says the woman, filled with impressionable enthusiasm and her joy for the son who served here.


The mother of the Russian soldier was in fact completely mistaken. The fairy-tale of Olenegorsk 2 – the “Tsar City” is a terrible one. It is no secret that the Military Unit No. 62834 to which her son was posted ceased to exist in 2004. Neither is it concealed it was here in 2004, that the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergei Ivanov, developed the military doctrine “Avariya 2004” with the participation of 49 experts from 17 different countries. By the time the secret nuclear military facility was ready to welcome these foreign citizens, the area had already been de-classified. Had that not been the case, the Minister himself would have been guilty of the divulgence of state secrets.


The Military Unit No. 62834, located in Olenegorsk 2, was designated as the base for the technical aid and repair of the air force of the Northern Fleet. In reality, the unit had nothing to do with aviation. The town was placed under the command of the twelve main directorates of the Ministry of Defence and was given its military name – “Olenegorsk 2” – due to the fact that it is located near to Olenegorsk in the Murmansk region. The story of the town begins on the 4th of September 1947 – the date of the founding of the 12 main directorates of the Ministry of Defence – “Nuclear Glaucus” – the official name of which is The Special Department of the General Staff.


On the 29th of August 1951, military bases for the storage and preparation of atomic bombs were created according to the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. The nature of these locations was concealed under the official code-name of “repair and technical bases” (RTB).


From 1954 onwards, the Soviet Union began the mass production of aircraft atomic bombs since, at that time, strategic nuclear weapons could only be transported by air. The first of the locations specially devised for this purpose was founded in Olenegorsk 2 in 1954. The colloquial nickname “Tsar City” was created by those who worked at the facility due to the abundance of food there at a time when shortages were common-place.


From the time of its creation to the present day, the facility remains the central base for the storage of nuclear munitions for Russia’s air and naval forces. It provides smaller bases with different kinds of nuclear munitions and technical support. The total capacity and volume of the nuclear munitions stored at the site is enough to ensure the total annihilation of the European continent.


There is no exact information on the total number of storage bases in the Murmansk region, nor on the exact number of nuclear warheads stored in them.


In the year 2010, strategic carriers were numbered at 611, with 2679 warheads. This number only takes into account deployed strategic weapons-carriers and does not include non-strategic nuclear weapons. According to Jim Risha – a senator of the American Republican Party, the number of Russian warheads totals 3800. America has only 500.


There are several different types of weapons with nuclear capabilities, including rockets, mortar shells and torpedoes, all of which fall under the category of tactical nuclear weapons. These tactical missiles with warheads are different from strategic missiles as, from Murmansk, they are only able to reach Kirkenes (Norway) or Rovaniemi (Finland); their destructive capabilities are equal to half a Hiroshima, whereas strategic missiles have a greater flight range and a destructive capability equal to several Hiroshimas.


17th May 1984: An explosion (fortunately non-nuclear) in the fifth warehouse of military unit at Okolni – the main arms base of the Northern Fleet. Here, almost half of the naval reserves of strategic missiles, torpedoes and mines were destroyed over a period of ninety minutes due to a sailor’s cigarette butt.


It is the end of the working day. Over the bay rockets jump and twist towards the hills. Another and another…The air is filled with the howls and crashes of the explosion. Those in the town and especially those on the ships berthed in Severomorsk understand immediately – it is the “salute” of Okolni – the granite wall which towers a kilometre away from the residential area and a few hundred metres away from the ships of the 7th Fleet. Two nuclear submarines are being loaded at this very base. The “salute” grows louder. In the sky there are already some “frenzied” missiles and then a giant fiery black cloud rises into the air. Slowly rising into the sky, it acquires the form of a mushroom, throwing the population of the city into confusion. Half-dressed women with children in their arms flee into the street – many in only their dressing gowns and slippers. They are joined in their flight by men, some of them in uniform, which gives the scene a particularly terrible drama. They head for the hills – someone falls and is lifted, dragged by the arm. A continuous stream of cars pours out of the city towards an unknown destination. At a stand-still, the drivers accept children forced into their hands by mothers. Cries, tears, obscenities and over all of it the continuous howl of Okolni’s “volcano”. A black mushroom with a crimson cap, having risen with all its force, freezes for a moment, swaying towards the city, and then begins to sink slowly in the direction of the tundra, the oceans.


This list is a long way from documenting all of the known storage bases for nuclear munitions and RTB. Locations include: Zapadnaya Litsa, Vidyaevo, Gadzhievo, Ribachyem, Gremikha, Visoki, the island of Kildin, and two bases in Severomorsk and Murmansk.


Neither the processing of nuclear weapons, nor the security of their storage is discussed in today’s Russia – nor is it so much the terrorists who are ready to secretly infiltrate these bases and commit acts of sabotage but the ordinary Russian thief. Even at the highest levels.


The head of 12 main directorates of the Ministry of Defence– Colonel-General Vladimir Verkhovstev – who the press has more recently lauded as an example of “selflessness, modesty and devotion to duty” – left his position in December 2010 in connection with the theft of 20 million roubles from a fund of 11 billion dollars given to the former Soviet states by the USA for the safe destruction and storage of nuclear weapons.


Everything relating to tactical nuclear weapons, their carriers and their locations across regional territories is an entirely closed topic. Therefore, the total information available does not reflect the real picture of the Murmansk region’s nuclear status.


The Murmansk region is littered not only with tactical missile mines, aerodromes with aircraft TU-22M, SU-24, IL-38, Be-12 and tactical nuclear munitions carriers, but is also home to bases for the storage of nuclear weapons, and other secret nuclear objects both on water and land.


One thing is clear – the Murmansk region is completely saturated with nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors and their bases, both strategic and tactical.


Numerous accidents, expired terms for storage and usage, a general uncertainty of their presence and how they are used – these are the things that characterise the nuclear branch of Russia’s armed forces. This creates danger for both Russia and her neighbours in Scandinavia. These objects have the capacity to destroy in one moment all life on this continent irrespective of territory, state or nation.


There is another important factor in determining the nuclear threat to Scandinavia and the other countries of the European continent – “nuclear psychology.” The majority of Russians believed and continued to believe that nuclear weapons are a source of national pride and that their presence is essential to the Russian state. This would explain the impotence of environmental organisations – both domestic and international, such as “Bellona”, “Green Cross”, the ecological movement “Green” and others – (excluding society’s necessary control over Russia’s nuclear weapons). The pride felt by a mother for her son’s service in the country’s largest nuclear repository is dazzling proof of this.


In sparsely-populated Russia – a country which covers 12% of the world’s land-mass but accounts for just 2% of its population (a population which, in any case, has a low life-expectancy) – debates on the danger of a “nuclear” worldview simply do not exist. The propaganda machine of the Russian authorities has managed to convince its citizens of the crazy idea that to saturate Russia with nuclear weapons – to the detriment of their health and, eventually, their early mortality – is somehow made up for by the achievement of nuclear superiority over other countries and peoples.


Baltic Review