The Russo-American Nuclear Exchange, often simply called the Exchange was a nuclear conflict between the Russian Federation and the United States of America that began on January 1st, 2009, and effectively ended by January 2nd. Total casualty estimates (including long term radiation-related deaths) range from 100 million to around 140 million. The Exchange triggered a limited Nuclear Winter, and as a result global agricultural production has decreased significantly. Food production was also severely damaged by the collapse of centralized governance in much of the United States, and the total collapse of all social order in Russia.
In 2007, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, following a popular uprising against Kremlin-puppet Viktor Yanukovych. The Western world subsequently levied intense economic sanctions against Russia, seeing an opportunity to upset the Russian sphere and bring a former Soviet state into the European economic sphere. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. Once again, the West levied sanctions and beefed up NATO presence in Eastern Europe. Tensions flared, reaching Cold War heights as the Ukrainian army was routed in the field and Russian tanks rolled through the streets of Donetsk.
But in November 2008, Russia moved troops into Eastern Estonia. Portions of Estonia had a large percentage of ethnic-Russian speakers left over from the days of the Soviet union, and Russia used this as an irredentist pretext for outright invasion. The United States was most displeased. The same month John McCain was elected the 44th president of the United States, defeating Barack Obama as the world seemed to slide further towards outright war in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, Estonia immediately invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty - NATO meetings were immediately held in Brussels. A declaration of war was formalized on November 17th, and an offensive air campaign aimed at the total destruction of the Russian Air-Force's ability to provide interdict NATO close air support operations was initiated less than an hour following the declaration. Polish, German, French, American, British, Czech, Romanian, Hungarian, and Dutch troops massed in Western Ukraine and Poland. Border skirmishes were frequent.
Progress was initially slow for NATO. After decades of planning for an overwhelming Warsaw Pact invasion, NATO was generally ill-prepared for large scale conventional military operations in Eastern Europe. Much of NATO's military infrastructure in Western Germany had been dismantled as US troops were withdrawn from the continent in the 90s, and most European militaries had faced large budget cuts following the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Organizing a corps-sized, multinational force proved especially difficult with most US combat troops actively deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, by late November, 70,000 US troops were deployed in Europe, redeployed directly from CENTCOM. The Bundeswehr contributed 55,000 troops, the Polish 35,000 troops, the Royal Army around 12,000, the French a further 8000, and around 6,000 troops were contributed by various other nations.
On December 12th NATO troops invaded eastern Ukraine and the USMC II MEF landed in Estonia. NATO, with total air superiority, and both qualitative and quantitative superiority over the Russian Army, rapidly gained the upper hand. Many Russian military officials likened the invasion to the opening stages of Operation Barbarossa. By December 24th NATO troops had reached the pre-war Ukrainian border with Russian. NATO halted the advance in order to consolidate forces and remedy the logistical issues endemic to any sustained, rapid advance.
5,000 Russian soldiers were killed over the course of the Ukrainian campaign, with a further 7000 wounded. 32,000 were forced to surrender outright, outmaneuvered by NATO armored formations and oftentimes lacking fuel due to the constant precision-bombing of supply depots and relentless attacks from NATO special forces. The USMC in Estonia achieved its objectives with minimal violence - their initial landings were unopposed, and the lightly-equipped Russian occupation force withdrew quickly.
A number of overtures were made to Russia through China for peace negotiations, but the Russian government refused to accept the return of the pre-war status quo. The idea of losing a major war outright did not sit well with the nationalist core of the Russian electorate, and once again, domestic political factors would trump foreign realities in the strategic calculus of Vladimir Putin. Requests for negotiations were met with stony silence from Russian diplomats, so on the morning of December 29th, SHAPE issued the order for NATO troops to move into Russia. Panic ensued in the Kremlin as German tanks once again rolled forwards towards the Volga, and American Marines drove towards St Petersburg.
Deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine
Russia and the United States have long maintained large arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons - critically, NATO intended to balance out its massive quantitative inferiority in the event of a European war with a large stockpile of battlefield nuclear warheads. This strategy emerged in the 50s and continued into the 80s, until the cracks in the Warsaw pact began to show and western military development outpaced that of the Russians. Post-Cold War a new balance of power emerged in Europe - the Russian army was massively downsized, Ukraine was gone, and most of the former Warsaw Pact nations joined NATO. It was obvious to Moscow that it no longer held the upper hand militarily. Tactical nuclear weapons immediately took on a massively expanded role in Russian military doctrine.
During the Cold War, Soviet policy did not allow for the first use of tactical nuclear weapons. But after the massive reversal of conventional military power in Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Kremlin developed a strategy of 'nuclear de-escalation.' The bar for the deployment of nuclear weapons was lowered significantly, and Russia began to consider procurement of large quantities of very low yield (25-100 ton) nuclear warheads. Now, nuclear weapons could be deployed by the Russian military to repel armed aggression that would not necessarily even threaten Russia's existence.
With this doctrine, Russia leaped up the proverbial escalation ladder on the morning of December 31st, when President Vladimir Putin authorized the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons against NATO forces in Eastern Ukraine and Russia. Three Russian 200kt Kh-55 cruise missiles were deployed around Rostov-on-Don over the next six hours to prevent a NATO breakthrough in Rostov Oblast. 14,000 NATO troops and 3000 Russian troops were killed, along with over 24,000 Russian civilians.
The NATO response to the Russian strikes was swift and decisive, and is today still the subject of heated debate among historians. As NATO armored formations were obliterated by nuclear arms as they tried to push into Russia's heartland, [Wikipedia:SHAPE|] unilaterally decided to authorize the deployment of the US responded by deploying its 340kt B61 gravity bombs stored throughout Europe. The action required Presidential approval, and this was granted at 0823 GMT. In effect, it was an entirely American decision with little European input.
Strikes were conducted on Russian formations near the Ukrainian border to the north of Kharkiv starting around 0900. About 25,000 Russian troops were eventually killed in the strikes, along with nearly 30,000 Russian and Ukrainian civilians. An unknown number of NATO troops were also killed.
News of the Russian strikes was patchy but by late morning most Western media outlets were reporting on the events. At 0914 GMT NATO officially announced that US warplanes were conducting nuclear strikes in Russia in response to Russian strikes east of the Volga. This is now commonly known as the 'Brussels Declaration.' The President of the United States did not speak on the matter until past 1800 EST, as he was in the process of being relocated to the bunker at Camp David.
Tactical nuclear weapon deployment continued into the morning of January 1st, with an estimated 300,000 total casualties. Even as the Russian government moved to Mount Yamantau and the POTUS left for Camp David, a Russian submarine skipper somewhere in the North Atlantic inched his boat towards his designated launch point.
Missiles detected by early-warning satellites
The situation in Europe continued to deteriorate throughout December 31st. Many European governments condemned the unilateral escalation and attempted to reach out to Moscow to start talks on de-escalation. The German diplomatic service managed to negotiate a Russian commitment to talks in Warsaw starting January 7th. In the United States, with Congress on recess for Christmas, the White House gave a single, four minute press release, and took no questions.
What would otherwise have been a cheerful New Year was a dreary affair - record low attendance was reported at the Times Square Ball Drop and similar events across the world. Many Americans and Europeans even began to flee major cities for the countryside, though this did not become widespread until the days immediately following the exchange. Indeed, the population of Metropolitan Paris may have permanently decreased by as much as one million people by mid February 2009.
At 0600 GMT, American early-warning satellites detected missile launches from a submarine in the Northern Atlantic. The launches were corroborated by radar and confirmed by 0602. They were immediately presumed to be Russian.
American Retaliatory Strikes Authorized
President Bush was already awake and was notified immediately. Though there was some limited confusion regarding the fact that the only launches detected had been from a single submarine and a much larger strike was expected, retaliatory strikes were authorized rapidly. Over the next two days, no additional Russian launches were detected. This is the cause of much puzzlement in Western military and political circles even today.
The first American Minuteman III ballistic missiles left their silos around 0604, approximately two minutes after the launch order was issued. The first B-52, B-1, and B-2 bombers took off around the same time. Many did not reach their targets until early morning on January 2nd. USN ballistic missile submarines completed their launches sometime prior to midnight on January 1st.
Throughout the course of the exchange there was a complete panic in US aligned centers of governance across the globe. The French and British, already on full alert posture, both came near to launching their warheads, but absent any direct action against their territories, and with no additional Russian launches taking place, neither government made use of their arsenals. (The British and French arsenals now make up the primary component of the EU's Joint Strategic Deterrent Program)
Between 0607 and 0614 GMT, the American cities of New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston were targeted and destroyed by R-29RMU Sineva ballistic missiles presumably launched from a Russian ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). Savannah and Norfolk were also targeted by multiple warheads due to their critical port infrastructure.
16 missiles were launched by the submarine, which is consistent with the maximum capacity of a Delta IV class SSBN. The R-29RMU is a MIRV and it carries four warheads. Of the total 64 warheads, 48 warheads were targeted at the aforementioned major population centers; the remaining 12 were targeted at military installations such as Fort Benning, Fort Knox, Raven Rock, and Camp David. Casualty estimates have been difficult to compile, but the generally accepted American death toll is around 7.4 million immediate deaths, with an additional 5.2 million people dying of radiation, burn, or blast related conditions over the next three months.
Damage to Russia, though, was even more severe. Most major or strategically important Russian cities were destroyed outright - Moscow, St Petersburg, Volgograd, Sevastopol, Vladivostok, Murmansk, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, and Omsk were all destroyed, among many others. As many as half of the targets were located away from major population centers. Given the current chaos of Eurasia, it is still difficult to accurately determine casualty counts or even identify all of the targets, but it is certain that upwards of 80 million people were killed in the hours following the detonation of the first warheads over the Russian countryside.
The Exchange, naturally, had far-reaching and widespread consequences, politically, socially, economically, and climatically. The Exchange effectively removed both Russia and the United States from the world stage, nullifying their status as preeminent superpowers. Russia as a centralized state ceased to exist following the exchange, and the United States was largely Balkanized by the wave of secessionist sentiment that followed the perceived failure of the US government to protect its citizens. The Exchange was the root cause of the mid-2000s remilitarization that took place across much of Europe and Asia - without a global hegemon former members of NATO and US aligned nations in East Asia quickly realized they would have to provide for their own security. This also resulted in further centralization of the EU, and collective security agreements such as the Taipei Pact.
Russian client states such as Iran and North Korea rapidly increased ties with China, and former US allies in the Middle East saw revenues decrease significantly with what was formerly their largest market reduced to a nation of refugees and instability. But with Russian oil and natural gas now categorically inaccessible in the long term, European nations rushed to secure a steady energy supply from the Middle East. The UK and France both deployed their carrier battle groups to the Mediterranean shortly after the Exchange, providing support to the substantial number of US and UK troops still stationed in Iraq, and warning Iran against closing the Strait of Hormuz. US warships in the area were offered logistical support and continued basing rights at European ports, while EU military officials attempted to make contact with remnants of the US government in order to decide the status of the coalition effort in Iraq.
Climatically, the Exchange had significant consequences. With the detonation of almost the entirety of the American nuclear arsenal and a small yet significant portion of the Russian arsenal, major firestorms erupted in large population centers across the eastern seaboard of the United States and in cities across the Russian Federation. These firestorms generated enough smoke to trigger a limited Nuclear Winter, with global cooling of up to -3°C, rendering around 5% of the world's agriculturally productive land temporarily useless and triggering famine in parts of the developing world. Agricultural production is expected to remain somewhat depressed into the mid 2010s, with global cooling of up to -1°C persisting until that time. Had the Exchange occurred outside the winter months of the year, it is possible that more soot would have been lofted into the stratosphere due to the increase in sunlight, and the climactic effects would have been much worse.
However, the Exchange also did much to devastate two of the most agriculturally productive nations in the world, damaging or destroying transportation and distribution networks across Eurasia and the United States and hampering agricultural production. In Russia especially, much of the region's best cropland was affected by fallout from warheads surface-bursted against Russian strategic targets such as C3I bunkers and other military installations. Furthermore, both nations no longer had the ability to provide medium-term physical security, or even to effectively impose price controls to make agricultural production and distribution economically feasible. As a result, a large proportion of the US and Russian urban populations died of hunger. Food riots were widespread across Eurasia and the Eastern United States, and served to further degrade the security situation, hampering food aid efforts by outside entities such as the EU and Canada. In the United States, the west coast largely evaded food shortages thanks to quick and decisive action from secessionist state governments. The American South was similarly fortunate, but still suffered significantly due to it's agricultural sector's emphasis on cash crops such as tobacco and cotton.