Putin’s Nuclear move in Belarus raises tensions, Heightened saber-rattling


Sometime this summer, if President Vladimir Putin can be believed, Russia moved some of its short-range nuclear weapons into Belarus, closer to Ukraine and onto NATO’s doorstep. The declared deployment of the Russian weapons on the territory of its neighbour and loyal ally marks a new stage in the Kremlin’s nuclear saber-rattling over its invasion of Ukraine and another bid to discourage the West from increasing military support to Kyiv.
Neither Putin nor his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, said how many were moved — only that Soviet-era facilities in the country were readied to accommodate them, and that Belarusian pilots and missile crews were trained to use them.
The US and NATO haven’t confirmed the move. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Moscow’s rhetoric as “dangerous and reckless,” but said earlier this month the alliance hasn’t seen any change in Russia’s nuclear posture.
While some experts doubt the claims by Putin and Lukashenko, others note that Western intelligence might be unable to monitor such movement.
Earlier this month, CNN quoted US intelligence officials as saying they had no reason to doubt Putin’s claim about the delivery of the first batch of the weapons to Belarus and noted it could be challenging for the US to track them. Unlike nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can destroy entire cities, tactical nuclear weapons for use against troops on the battlefield can have a yield as small as about 1 kiloton. The US bomb in Hiroshima in World War II was 15 kilotons.
The devices are compact: Used on bombs, missiles and artillery shells, they could be discreetly carried on a truck or plane. Aliaksandr Alesin, an independent Minsk-based military analyst, said the weapons use containers that emit no radiation and could have been flown into Belarus without Western intelligence seeing it.
“They easily fit in a regular Il-76 transport plane,” Alesin said. “There are dozens of flights a day, and it’s very difficult to track down that special flight. The Americans could fail to monitor it.”
Belarus has 25 underground facilities built during the Cold War for nuclear-tipped intermediate-range missiles that can withstand missile attacks, Alesin said. Only five or six such depots could actually store tactical nuclear weapons, he added, but the military operates at all of them to fool Western intelligence.
Early in the war, Putin referenced his nuclear arsenal by vowing repeatedly to use “all means” necessary to protect Russia.
He has toned down his statements recently, but a top lieutenant continues to dangle the prospect with terrifying ease.