The Russian defense minister has announced that Belarus has received the Iskander-M operational-tactical missile system (OTRK) from Russia, which can employ both conventional and nuclear missiles.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the transfer of the Iskander-M missile system to Belarus on April 4 during a conference call with the leadership of the country’s armed forces.
Shoigu added that training for Belarusian servicemen to use the Iskander began on April 3 at one of the Russian military’s training facilities. Shoigu also disclosed that some of Minsk’s military planes can now launch nuclear missiles at hostile locations.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko earlier confirmed that Belarusian Su-24s had been re-equipped to carry nuclear weapons. Lukashenko has frequently mentioned that Moscow has already assisted Belarus in modernizing its warplane fleet to enable it to carry nuclear weapons.
Shoigu also commented on NATO’s increased combat readiness and heightened activities near the borders of Russia and Belarus. He warned that Finland’s NATO membership could potentially escalate the ongoing Moscow-Kyiv conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that Moscow would complete the construction of a dedicated storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which was met with strong international condemnation.
According to Belarus’ Foreign Ministry, hosting Russian nuclear weapons does not represent an infringement of any international non-proliferation treaties. That action was compelled by years of Western pressure.
However, on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that he had not observed any movement of Russia’s nuclear weapons.
Stoltenberg stated that President Putin’s announcement is part of a larger hazardous and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric pattern.
He emphasized that Russia is attempting to utilize nuclear weapons as a means of coercion and intimidation to dissuade NATO allies and partners from supporting Ukraine’s right to safeguard its own country.
He accused the Russian President of “dangerous and reckless” nuclear rhetoric, which, in his opinion, was allegedly voiced even before the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.
Why Is Russia Deploying Nuclear Weapons In Belarus?
The Iskander-M missile system is a mobile, short-range ballistic missile system developed by Russia. It is designed to deliver conventional and nuclear warheads with high precision and has a range of up to 500 kilometers.
The Iskander-M is equipped with various advanced technologies that enhance its accuracy and lethality, including a digital inertial guidance system, a terrain comparison system, and a radar homing head.
The nuclear-capable version of the Iskander-M is believed to be equipped with a low-yield nuclear warhead designed to minimize collateral damage while maximizing its destructive effect on a specific target.
The Iskander-M’s nuclear capability has raised concerns among some Western nations. The installation of the Iskander-M missile system in Belarus would also be a matter of great apprehension for Ukraine, which has been cautioning its Western allies regarding the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack.
The existence of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, would allow Russia to quickly and easily launch attacks on potential targets in Ukraine using their aircraft and missiles if they choose to do so.
This would also extend Russia’s ability to strike multiple NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe. This development coincides with Kyiv’s preparations to launch a counteroffensive to take back areas occupied by Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has asserted that the US and its allies have ignored Russia’s requests to withdraw US nuclear weapons from Europe. As a result, Moscow has reaffirmed its right to take any additional actions required to ensure the security of Russia and its allies.
Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, recently issued a warning that any move by Ukraine to retake control of the Crimean Peninsula would be considered an imminent danger to Russia’s sovereignty and may result in a nuclear response under the country’s security doctrine.
Medvedev stated that every day Ukraine receives weapons from Western countries, it brings the world closer to a nuclear apocalypse.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov suggests that Putin’s objective is to dissuade Ukraine’s Western supporters from providing additional weapons before they launch any counteroffensive.