Russia deploys tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, old nuclear regime is crumbling says expert

In an official statement the Republic of Belarus earlier this week confirmed that it has decided to host the weapons.

Russia, deploys
In his view “If the US, the UK and other NATO forces send their weapons to Ukraine, then Russia can also arm its own allies — like Belarus.”

Amidst the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, recently Russian President Vladimir announced his intention to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory.

In an official statement the Republic of Belarus earlier this week confirmed that it has decided to host the weapons and stated that the Russian nuclear plans would not contravene international non-proliferation agreements. And that the control of those weapons will not be under Belarus.

According to a statement quoting Belarusian foreign minister, Belarus has been under tremendous economic, political and information pressure from the US, the UK and its NATO allies, and also the member states of the European Union.

What are ‘Tactical’ nuclear weapons?

These are weapons which do not wipe out cities, but are used in the battlefield for specific gains. Unlike the US, Russia has not deployed nuclear weapons beyond its borders.

Why Belarus?

This country shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Poland and Lithuania.

 What weapons and how many will be deployed in Belarus, there is no clarity. And the construction of a storage facility for Tactical weapons in Belarus is expected to be completed by early July.

So far Russia has positioned 10 aircraft which have the capability to carry tactical nuclear weapons. According to reports Moscow has already moved several Iskander tactical missile systems and these are capable of launching nuclear weapons.

Following the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991 nuclear weapons were deployed in four newly independent states of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. However the four countries decided in 1992 that the weapons should be based in Russia. Thereafter in 1996 the warheads were transferred to Russia. 

So what are the reasons for Russia to take this step, are these signs of violation of non-proliferation laws?

“There are two specific concerns related to Moscow’s decision to install tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. First, it’s a warning to the neighbouring countries, especially, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to avoid escalation or face the consequences. Moscow could have deployed such weapons secretly too. But an open announcement implies that it wants to send a message to NATO. Deployment of tactical nuclear warheads is meant to gain advantage in the battlefield. They are not for large-scale destruction. Belarus is the only ally of Russia in the war, and given its dependence on Moscow, the former does not have the option of rejecting Moscow’s offer. The West has warned Belarus of sanctions, but that may not be enough to deter Belarus,” explains Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi.

According to Prof Rajan, “The second reason is that the West worries about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the non-nuclear states. Moscow blames NATO for deploying such weapons in Europe. There are clear signs that the old nuclear regime is crumbling. The US and Britain decided to provide nuclear submarines to Australia under the AUKUS deal earlier. That was decried as a step towards proliferation. And now Moscow wants to deploy tactical warheads in Belarus. Iran is also believed to have enriched uranium close to 80 percent—a requirement for the weapon development. North Korea is another example of disobeying the nuclear regime. These are clear signs of the violation of non-proliferation laws.”

“These states have turned indifferent because there is no international consensus on such issues. China and Russia on the one side and the West on the other have complicated global politics. Many of the smaller states have begun to believe that nuclear weapons are the best guarantee for their security from powerful neighbours. Had Ukraine been nuclear, Russia would not have invaded. That kind of sentiment has become popular among smaller states,” he opines.

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First published on: 30-03-2023 at 18:23 IST