In another round of nuclear brinkmanship that is expected to unsettle NATO, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reasserted that all of the nuclear weapons that Russia intended to send to Belarus were already present on the state’s soil.
“[It has been here] For a long time. I already said the delivery was completed. Back in September, maybe in October. The last batch arrived at the beginning of October. Everything is in its place in good condition, ” Lukashenko was quoted saying.
Asked when the next military exercise would be held, Lukashenko replied, “We train daily. Even former Wagner Group members who remained in Belarus work in our units and share their experience.”
It was in March this year, a year after the invasion of Ukraine, that the Russian president announced that he had consented to the placement of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. He defended his decision by citing the decades-long placement of these weapons in other European nations by its Cold War rival, the United States.
Shortly after this announcement, which created a frenzy in East Europe, the Russian defense minister announced in April that Belarus received the Iskander-M operational-tactical missile system (OTRK) from Russia, capable of employing both conventional and nuclear missiles.
At the time, Shoigu also disclosed that some of Minsk’s military planes could launch nuclear missiles at hostile locations. Lukashenko also confirmed the Belarusian aircraft re-equipment to carry atomic weapons.
The Belarusian President announced in June that his country has started taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, some of which he said were three times more powerful than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Additionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced that Moscow would complete the construction of a dedicated storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russia and Belarus have a union pact that unites their military, economic, and political strategies.
In February 2022, Russian troops invaded Ukraine from the north via Belarusian territory, and they have been there ever since. Russian MiG-31K fighter jets, carriers of its Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, have also been deployed in Belarus.
It has been noted with concern by military analysts that Russia is placing its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) closer to fortified targets in Ukraine and NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe by basing them in Belarus. A 1,250-kilometer (778-mile) border separates Belarus from Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, with three NATO members.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has so far maintained that hosting Russian nuclear weapons does not represent an infringement of any international non-proliferation treaties.
The decision was compelled by years of Western pressure. However, the recent rhetoric peddled by the Belarusian President has been seen by NATO as an extension of Russia’s nuclear brinksmanship.
Belarus military apparently now operating Russian-supplied Iskander-M SRBM launchers. In the Russian military they have dual-capable mission. https://t.co/wrPeMvm8Ui
— Hans Kristensen (@nukestrat) February 1, 2023
President Alexander Lukashenko declared in August that Belarus would be prepared to use the nuclear weapons provided by its close friend Russia in the event of foreign “aggression,” as tensions near the nation’s borders with NATO countries are growing.
Lukashenko emphasized that Belarus would “never get involved in this war” until Ukrainians breached its border in an interview. However, he continued, “We will continue to support Russia; they are an ally.” He said Belarus would “immediately respond with everything we have” if it was provoked, particularly by nearby NATO members.
The deployment of these weapons in Belarus ended up creating the impression that these shorter-range, less powerful nuclear weapons could potentially be used on the battlefield against Ukraine if a stalemate continued.
In a nutshell, compared to far more potent nuclear bombs attached to long-range missiles, tactical nuclear weapons are designed for use in combat environments and have a limited output and range. According to representatives in Moscow and Minsk, the warheads might be installed on short-range Iskander missiles or flown by Belarusian Su-25 attack aircraft.
Sitting On Nukes, But Poses No Big Threat
Belarusian Su-25 attack aircraft would be equipped to carry nuclear weapons. Conversion of the planes and training of pilots would be implemented in Russia. Iskander missiles—a dual-capable, short-range (500 kilometers or 310 miles) missile system—would be deployed in Belarus in its ballistic and cruise-missile versions.
The fact that Russia has placed nuclear weapons outside of its borders for the first time since the collapse of the former Soviet Union (USSR) makes this situation significant.
Soon after these plans were announced, experts assumed that since Belarus possesses ten Su-25 aircraft, there might be ten nuclear weapons available for air delivery. It is stated that the conversion of the legacy Soviet Su-25s to dual capability will be significantly simpler and less expensive because they were first built with nuclear capacity. Moreover, nuclear weapons that Iskanders could deliver in Belarus are also not that difficult a process to adopt.
Ironically, it was Belarus that, together with Kazakhstan and Ukraine, had allowed Moscow to reclaim all of the legacy nuclear weapons that had remained on its soil following the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s by giving them up.
According to the military watchers who have been keenly following the transfer of these nukes to Belarus, tactical nuclear weapons within Belarusian territory, with their limited range and power, will not affect the Ukrainian conflict in any way. The only countries that should be most worried are neighboring Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania which are very unlikely to be drawn into this conflict.
Завершена доподготовка летного и инженерно-технического состава военно-воздушных сил и войск противовоздушной обороны Республики Беларусь по программе эксплуатации и боевого применения штурмовиков Су-25. pic.twitter.com/0cZy8QnUut
— Минобороны Беларуси (@MOD_BY) April 14, 2023
More significantly, despite all the saber-rattling that Moscow has undertaken since the start of this conflict, the Russian leader has made it clear that Russia does not want to use nuclear weapons at present. “Nuclear weapons have been made to ensure our security in the broadest sense of the word and the existence of the Russian state, but we … have no such need [to use them],” Putin said.
As previously explained by veteran journalist Prakash Nanda, writing for EurAsian Times, Russia is not breaking any agreements with the US or the multilateral NPT by moving its nuclear weapons to another friendly nation, nor is it violating the now-suspended bilateral START accord.
It’s interesting to note that what Russia plans to accomplish in Belarus is essentially the same as what the US is doing in NATO member states around Europe with its nuclear weapons. Russian soldiers would be in charge of the armaments during peacetime, while Belarusian pilots flying Belarusian aircraft would employ them during wartime while being commanded by Moscow.
Russia would have complete control over the nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, while the Belarusian military forces would be in charge of the delivery trucks. Similar arrangements exist in the US; its allies are not in charge of the nuclear weapons stationed on their soil.
Unless Russia does not want to use nuclear weapons, Belarus cannot use them. So, the Belarusian President does not have the power to play the trailblazer here. The West, however, continues to stay wary and has been expanding its nuclear weapons in the region.
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