Will strategic nuclear weapons follow their tactical cousins into Belarus?
The Belarusian regime has begun preparing infrastructure for deploying Russian strategic nuclear weapons (SNW). Moscow thereby uses Belarus as a strategic battering ram to provoke a new Cuban missile crisis in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to push the West into agreeing to stabilise relations with the new status quo.
Only a month has passed since Lukashenka stated he and Putin were preparing to deploy tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. The Belarusian Ministry of Defence has already begun to prepare launch pads for the Topol strategic mobile ground-based missile systems (PGRK).
These works are taking place at former military bases near Shereshevo and Yasen in the Brest region, where the 56th Missile Regiment and the 1692nd Repair and Technical Base of the Strategic Missile Forces were stationed in Soviet times. The Belarusian military is carrying out landscaping and maintenance work so that, if necessary, the facilities can be quickly prepared for use.
Lukashenka probably made an inspection visit on April 24th to monitor the progress of restoration work at this site before he visited the Grodno region.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence reported that Belarusian missile technicians were trained in the operation and use of the Iskander-M missile system, including a complete course on handling tactical nuclear weapons and the maintenance and service of tactical nuclear warheads. The final stage included combat launches on designated targets.
Moscow has therefore breached the moratorium on deploying short to intermediate-range (500-5500 km) missiles (the INF treaty). Officially, the Iskander-M OTRK systems transferred to Belarus have a range of less than 500 km and do not fall under the INF Treaty; however, the fact that they can also employ the 9M729 cruise missile with a range of up to 2600 km was the main reason the USA accused Russia of violating the INF Treaty in 2018.
Lukashenka justifies the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus as necessary to ensure the security and independence of the country. The Belarusian military leadership asserts that such steps are a response to militarisation by NATO and requests from several neighbouring Western states to deploy American tactical nuclear weapons. Alleged statements from the Ukrainian leadership about preventive nuclear strikes on the territory of the Union State are also cited, as is the alleged breach of the Budapest Memorandum arising from Western sanctions.
Minsk is counting nuclear weapons as an effective deterrent since there is no historical precedent for full-scale military action against a nuclear state. Deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus indicates that Moscow is preparing to escalate the Russian-Ukrainian war to regional and global level. Such expansion of the conflict zone and threatened use of nuclear weapons in the European theatre could even lead to the use of strategic nuclear weapons against the United States.
The calculation appears that the tangible threat of escalating the Russian-Ukrainian war into a global confrontation will provoke a replay of the “Cuban missile crisis”, leading to the stabilisation of relations between Russia and the West on a new basis.
The preparation of Topol strategic missile launch pads suggests that an agreement on deploying strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus has been reached. Belarus will be the battering ram to provoke a new Cuban missile crisis. If the West does not capitulate to this threat, and Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons from Belarusian territory against Ukraine and NATO countries, a retaliatory missile strike by the United States and its allies will be immediately carried out on Belarusian territory. Hopes that the presence of strategic nuclear weapons will avoid this response are unjustified.
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Situation in Belarus