Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Secret Cities

On the eve of the Great Patriotic War the Soviet military-industrial complex created a number of new other towns and cities for weapons development and manufacturing. The creation of such "town-forming enterprises" accelerated during the War, as much of the Soviet military industrial infrastructure was relocated beyond the reach of Hitler's advancing armies.

In response to the immense challenge of the unfolding East-West arms race, Stalin decided to create dozens of centers of research and development excellence in the USSR. Some of these so-called "Naukograds" [Science Towns] were "Akademgorodok" [Academic Cities} devoted to basic research. Others were secret cities which were to provide the technical foundation for Soviet military technology - sputniks, long-range missiles, thermonuclear warheads of extreme yield. Among the work performed in such places were chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research and manufacturing, enrichment of plutonium, space research, and military intelligence work.

Collectively, these secret cities are known as zakrytye administrativno-territorial'nye obrazovaniia (ZATO), many of which were built by slave labor from the Soviet GULAG. During the cold war many of Russia's towns and cities, including some of its largest, were 'closed cities'. Anyone with a foreign passport was forbidden to enter, and many were even out of bounds to Russian citizens. These closed cities provided the technical foundation for Soviet military technology including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research and manufacturing, enrichment of plutonium, space research, and military intelligence work. This meant that large numbers of highly qualified scientists and researchers were concentrated in these geographical areas, developing new technologies but isolated from the global research community. With Glasnost and the fall of the Soviet Union, all of the major cities were opened for collaboration in civil research and the slow process of breaking down the barriers of secrecy began.

Such "secret cities" were known only by a postal code, identified with a name and a number. Originally, the number following the city was the distance in kilometers the facility was located from the city. In practice, the numbers were in some instances arbitrarily assigned, and changed from time to time, to obscure the actual location of the installation. Thus, the All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF) was initially known as Arzamas-60, a postal code designation to show that it was 60 km from the city of Arzamas. But the "60" was considered too sensitive, and the number was changed to "16." In 1947 the entire city of Sarov (Arzamas-16) disappeared from all official Russian maps and statistical documents. The facility has also been known Moscow-300, the town of Kremlev, and Arzamas-75. Zlatoust-20 is probably the same as Zlatoust-36, and Kurchatov-21, Moscow-21, Moscow-400 and Semipalatinsk-121 are almost certainly the same as Semipalatinsk-16.

The naukograds reflect the character of the Soviet system of organising the society to a high degree of purity. More generally, the secret cities were a natural expression of the Soviet emphasis on secrecy, and strict controls on the internal movement of the population. But they were not entirely unique to the Soviet system. For instance, in 1915, Britain built a massive new war factory on the Solway River. HM Factory Gretna employed 30,000 women and men manufacturing cordite for ammunition. The two new Townships of Eastriggs and Gretna were created to house many of the workers who built and worked in the factory. But the new communities did not officially exist because of the secrecy surrounding the operation. Gretna and Eastriggs were referred to by their codename "Moorside" in Government circles. Conan Doyle describes those townships as Miracle Towns, because the houses were not just thrown up without thought. They were designed by prominent architects of the day to modern Garden City principles. Cinemas, Dance Halls, Schools, Churches, State Controlled Public Houses and Leisure Facilities were provided for the needs of the munitions workers. The United States employed a similar philosophy with the Manhattan Project that built the first atomic bomb during World War II, building secret cities at Hanford, Washington, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Many Soviet era defense plant are, in some ways, a throw-back to a US factory-town. The defense plant is a mini-city in itself, with its own apartments, doctors, clinics, restaurants, and power plants. Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, defense plant employees usually live in company apartments, shop in company stores, and eat in company cafeterias. Up to 80 percent of a defense plant's budget goes to maintaining these social services. The plant manager is often as concerned with making deals to bring in potatoes and bread to feed his people as with joint venture agreements, and these and other transactions are often conducted on a barter-basis.

The "secret cities" share these characteristics, but they were separated from other urban areas, self-contained, and protected by fences and guard forces. The secret cities require a special permit for entrance, and are usually surrounded by a concrete wall. Personnel working in the Soviet nuclear complex were under heavy surveillance by the KGB, and underwent an intensive screening process, and their activities were closely monitored. Soviet-era control systems relied heavily on keeping personnel and materiel in secret cities and facilities, closely monitoring nuclear industry personnel, and severely punishing control violations.

The facilities could grow to considerable size, with tens of thousands of employees and dependents. With schools, stores, and recreational facilities, these secret cities contained everything a normal city might have. The selection of goods was often much better than a normal Soviet city, a reward for the difficult lifestyle and secrecy required by the job. Many of these cities are now "open," but remain engaged in military-industrial work. In present Russia, 3 million people live in such naukograds. The problem is what to do with these cities after the end of the militarized East-West contest.

According to one estimate, there are at least 40 known ZATO, ten of which are dedicated to nuclear weapons development and production. In addition, there are thought to be at least 15 ZATO in existence that cannot be accounted for. Other sources suggest that there are thirty-eight localities believed to be secret cities. Seventeen secret cities are categorized as a gorod (city) or gorsovet, a rayon-independent district of a larger size that is largely urban, but usually containing rural locations as well. Gorod/gorsovet secret cities appear to be large manufacturing and research facilities, usually with populations above 20,000. The remaining twenty-one districts are designated as Posyolok Gorodskogo Tipa [PGT] or "Urban-Type Settlement". PGT secret cities are smaller, under 20,000 in population (often ranging down to only a few thousand). These secret urban-type settlements appear to be garrisons for military installations or research/manufacturing centers of secondary importance.

  • Cities in bold are the most commonly used designations, while other entries represent alternative designations or entities of uncertain provenance.
  • Cities in italic have been mentioned in only one source, and in some instances probably represent alternative designations for more well attested cities. All others have appeared in at least two different sources
  • All cities are in the Russian Federation unless otherwise noted
  • NA=Not Available

The following list is evidently incomplete in at least two respects. In many cases it is not possible to correlate the letter-box address with a specific facility or enterprise, though in more than a few cases there are several promising candidates in the area. Prominent examples include Naro-Fominsk-5, Nizhny-Tagil-39, Golitsyno-2, and Zagorsk-7. It will also be apparent that many classes of facilities, such as ICBM bases or test ranges, are incompletely represented in this list, though presumably they were all assigned postal code designations.

Postal Code Name Local Name Oblast/Kray/ASSR Rayon
??? Sibirskiy PGT Altayskiy Kray ??
Alkino-2 (NA) Bashkortostan
Arzamas-16 Sarov gorod / Kremlev Nizhegorod oblast Diveevskiy
Arzamas-60 Sarov gorod / Kremlev Nizhegorod oblast Diveevskiy
Arzamas-75 Sarov gorod / Kremlev Nizhegorod oblast Diveevskiy
Beloretsk-15 Mezhgorye Bashkortostan
Beloretsk-16 Mezhgorye Bashkortostan
Bologoe-4 Ozernyy PGT Tver oblast Bologovskiy
Chelyabinsk-40 Ozersk gorod Chelyabinsk oblast Kyshtym gorsovet
Chelyabinsk-65 Ozersk gorod Chelyabinsk oblast Kyshtym gorsovet
Chelyabinsk-70 Snezhinsk gorod Chelyabinsk oblast Kaslinskiy
Chelyabinsk-95 (NA) Chelyabinsk oblast
Chelyabinsk-115 (NA) Chelyabinsk oblast
Chelyabinsk [?] Trezhinsk gorod Chelyabinsk oblast ???
Chita-46 Gornyy PGT Chita oblast Uletovskiy
Dombrovskiy-3 Komarovskiy PGT Orenburg oblast Yasnenskiy
Golitsino-2 Krasnoznamensk gorod Moscow oblast Odintsovskiy
Kapustin Yar-1 Znamensk gorod Astrakhan oblast Akhtubinskiy
Kartaly-6 Lokomotovnyy PGT Chelyabisnk oblast Kartalinskiy
Kosulino-1 Ural'skiy PGT Sverdlovsk oblast ???
Krasnoyarsk-25 (NA) (NA)
Krasnoyarsk-26 Zheleznogorsk gorod Krasnoyarsk kray Berezovskiy
Krasnoyarsk-35 Podgornyy PGT Krasnoyarsk kray ???
Krasnoyarsk-45 Zelenogorsk gorod Krasnoyarsk kray Rybinskiy
Krasnoyarsk-66 Kedrovyy PGT Krasnoyarsk kray ???
Krasnoyarsk-95 (NA) (NA)
Kurchatov-21 (NA) Semipalatinsk oblast, Kazakhstan
Mirnyy Mirnyy gorod Arkhangelsk oblast Plesetskiy
Moscow-21 (NA) Semipalatinsk oblast, Kazakhstan
Moscow-300 Kremlev Nizhegorod oblast
Moscow-400 (NA) Semipalatinsk oblast, Kazakhstan
Murmansk-60 Snezhogorsk gorod Murmansk oblast Polyarnye
Murmansk-130 Skalistyy gorsovet Murmansk oblast Polyarnye
Murmansk-140 Ostrovnoy gorsovet Murmansk oblast Levozerskiy
Murmansk-150 Zaozersk gorod Murmansk oblast Kol'skiy
Naro-Fominsk-5 Molodezhnyy PGT Moscow oblast Naro-Fominskiy
Novopetrovsk-2 Voskhod PGT Moscow oblast ???
Nizhny-Tagil-39 Svobodnyy PGT Sverdlovsk oblast Nizhniy Tagil gorod
Olovyannaya-4 (NA) Chita oblast
Ostashkov[?] Solnechnyy PGT Tverskaya Oblast Ostashkovskiy
Penza-19 Zarechnyy gorod Penza oblast Kuznetskiy
Perm'-76 Zvezdnyy PGT Perm' oblast ???
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy-35 Vulkanniy PGT Kamchatka oblast Elizovskiy
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy-50 Vilyuchinsk gorod Kamchatka oblast Elizovskiy
Plesetsk Plesetsk Arkhangelsk oblast Plesetskiy
Semipalatinsk-16 Kurchatov Semipalatinsk oblast, Kazakhstan
Semipalatinsk-121 Kurchatov Semipalatinsk oblast, Kazakhstan
Severodvinsk Severodvinsk Arkhangelsk oblast
Shkotovo-17 Fokino PGT Primorskiy kray Shkotovskiy
Shkotovo-22 Dunai Primorskiy kray
Shkotovo-26 Putyatin Primorskiy kray
Sosnovoborsk Podgornyy PGT Krasnoyarsk kray ???
Stupino-7 Prioksk PGT Moscow oblast Stupinskiy
Sverdlovsk-44 Novoural'sk gorod Sverdlovslast Nev'yanskiy
Sverdlovsk-45 Lesnoy gorod Sverdlovsk oblast Nizhniy Tura gorsovet
Svobodnyy-18 Ugelgorsk PGT Amur oblast Svobodnenskiy
Tatishchevo-5 Svetlyy PGT Saratov oblast Tatishchevskiy
Tomsk-7 Seversk gorod Tomsk oblast Tomskiy
Uzhur-4 Solnechnyy PGT Krasnoyarsk kray Uzhurskiy
Yur'ya-2 Pervomayskiy PGT Kirov oblast Yur'yanovskiy
Zagorsk-7 (NA) (NA)
Zlatoust-20 Trekhgornyy Chelyabisnk oblast
Zlatoust-36 Trekhgornyy Chelyabinsk oblast


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Additional Info

Find a Security Clearance Job!