Despite urgent warnings from US and Western allies, Moscow is moving forward with plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. The two longtime allies which form what they call a ‘union state’ signed a deal Thursday to formalize deployment of Russian nukes on Belarusian soil. All of this comes dangerously as Ukraine’s cross-border sabotage attacks on Russian territory have clearly escalated.
Alarmingly for Ukraine and its NATO backers, Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko said soon after the deal was signed that the transfer of non-strategic nuclear weapons from Russia to Belarus is already underway.
And Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said in Minsk alongside Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu: “Deployment of nonstrategic nuclear weapons is an effective response to the aggressive policy of countries unfriendly to us,” according to regional media.
Additionally Shoigu stated that “In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, a decision was made to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere.”
Starting months ago international reports said that Russian tactical nukes would soon be in Belarus, but there were conflicting reports over whether it had actually happened yet.
Additionally, as AP highlights, “Also unclear is how many nuclear weapons would be kept in Belarus. The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.”
All of this was put in motion starting in late March, when Russian President Vladimir Putin first announced that Minsk requested the presence of Russian tactical nukes. According to TASS at the time, “As the Russian leader indicated, the construction of storage facilities for tactical nuclear weapons will be completed in Belarus by July 1.”
“Moscow has already provided Minsk with Iskander tactical missile systems capable of carrying nuclear weapons and has helped Minsk to re-equip its military aircraft to carry specialized weapons,” TASS noted in its prior reporting. “As well, Belarusian missile crews and pilots have undergone training in Russia.”
NATO has called the move “dangerous and irresponsible” – while EU foreign policy chief Joseph Borrell previously said, “Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation & threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions.” Currently the EU is preparing an 11th round of anti-Russia sanctions.
Lukashenko tells a TV reporter that the transfer of nuclear warheads from Russia to Belarus has already begun, though he’s a bit evasive when asked if a nuke is already on Belarusian soil. pic.twitter.com/eD7j2lPS0g
— Kevin Rothrock (@KevinRothrock) May 25, 2023
But it must be recalled that the Unites States stations tactical nuclear weapons in places like Turkey as well some NATO locations in Europe. Turkey is merely across the Black Sea from Russia. This NATO ‘nuclear sharing’ program has been a reality for decades.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu additionally explained on Thursday that NATO is using the Ukraine crisis to build up its military infrastructure there:
“NATO is using the Ukrainian crisis as a pretext for building up its groups. Another stage of the alliance’s expansion has been launched. Military infrastructure is being modernized in Eastern and Central Europe, strike weapons are being deployed, and the scale and intensity of joint exercises are increasing,” Shoigu said at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Council of Defense Ministers.
He also highlighted “the growing aggressive rhetoric and joint ‘nuclear missions’ by NATO countries in Eastern Europe for practicing the use of nuclear weapons delivery systems, as well as the upgrading of the components of the US global missile defense system.”
This seems an ‘answer’ to the Western allies in terms of the rationale for proceeding with tactical nukes in Belarus.
But for some important context…
You will find more infographics at Statista