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March 11 – March 17, 2024
Security issues

It’s a bomb! Russian tactical nuclear weapons are already in Belarus

The situation got worse
It’s a bomb! Russian tactical nuclear weapons are already in Belarus
Карикатура: Luo Jie

The secretive effort to deploy Russian tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Belarus is becoming evident to Western intelligence agencies. Foreign special services still believe the deployment of TNW is a political signal from the Kremlin, aimed at unsettling NATO countries. However, the real nature and order of its deployment indicate practical preparations for its operational use against Ukraine and/or NATO’s “eastern flank.”

For the first time, the West has confirmed that Russia has transferred tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. This information surfaced the day after Vladimir Putin declared that, from a military-technical perspective, Moscow is ready for nuclear war.

The Russian President began hinting at the possibility of using nuclear weapons from the first days of the war in Ukraine. Washington took these threats seriously and prepared for Russia possibly using tactical nuclear weapons during the conflict.

However, the Kremlin’s leader asserts that there was never a need for such measures: according to him, the front did not collapse, and Russian troops withdrew from Kherson as planned. Whether there were plans for such measures in case the front did collapse was not disclosed. Yet, he referred to the nuclear doctrine, which states nuclear weapons may be used if the state’s existence is threatened. Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, cites the potential loss of Kremlin control over annexed Crimea as an example of such a threat.

Western analysts believe the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus is a clear political signal. However, from a practical standpoint, it makes little sense. Russia has missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons to virtually any point in NATO territory. According to a new US intelligence assessment, Russia likely does not want to engage in direct military conflict with NATO. However, Moscow might use nuclear weapons to deter Washington and the alliance as a whole to restore its ground forces.

Western experts’ logic is based on the idea that nuclear warheads in Belarus do not give Russia a significant military advantage in Eastern Europe. Moscow already has modernized storage facilities in Kaliningrad and has long been able to strike NATO countries with nuclear weapons from its territory. According to Western analysts, this deployment is meant to unsettle NATO’s eastern member countries and further emphasize Russia’s status as a nuclear power.

Yet, the nature of the Russian TNW deployment indicates it is not about sending a signal to the West but about preparing for its operational use against Ukraine and NATO’s “eastern flank.”

For instance, a military warehouse in Central Belarus near Osipovichi was recently upgraded—it received additional security perimeters and access points. This suggests the warehouse might be intended for storing Russian nuclear warheads. The military site is located close to the 465th Missile Brigade, which is armed with the Russian-supplied tactical missile systems “Iskander-M.”

The actual placement of nuclear warheads at a military warehouse, rather than in specialized bunker-type fortification facilities, indicates the deployment of TNW in de-facto field conditions. This method reduces the time for delivery and mounting of nuclear warheads on tactical missile systems, indicating preparations for their operational use.

Hypothetical use of TNW by the Kremlin from Belarusian territory allows Russia to “hide” behind Belarus from a retaliatory strike by the US/NATO, making Belarus the first natural target for such a response. This choice of target is facilitated by the fact that Alexander Lukashenko himself claims participation in the decision-making process regarding the use of Russian TNW.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.
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