Questioning the Validity of Putin’s Nuclear Weapon Deployment in Belarus: An Increase in Posturing

by Michael Nguyen
Nuclear Weapons Deployment to Belarus

If President Vladimir Putin’s words are to be taken seriously, Russia allegedly relocated some of its short-range nuclear arsenal to Belarus earlier this summer. This move brings these weapons closer to Ukraine and on the threshold of NATO.

The stated repositioning of Russian nuclear weapons on the soil of its neighbouring and steadfast ally indicates a fresh phase in Kremlin’s nuclear brinkmanship concerning its invasion of Ukraine. This move is another attempt to dissuade the West from augmenting its military aid to Kyiv.

There have been indications that Soviet-era facilities within Belarus have been prepared to house these weapons, and that Belarusian pilots and missile operators have been trained to handle them.

However, the U.S. and NATO have yet to confirm this maneuver. Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General of NATO, labeled Moscow’s rhetoric as “reckless and dangerous,” yet earlier this month, he noted that there hasn’t been any shift in Russia’s nuclear stance.

The veracity of the assertions by Putin and Lukashenko, the Belarusian leader, is questioned by some experts. Still, others argue that it might be challenging for Western intelligence to detect such movements.

Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence officials were quoted by CNN saying they had no reason to doubt Putin’s assertion regarding the first batch of weapons being delivered to Belarus. They noted it could be tough for the U.S. to monitor this.

Unlike nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles that can decimate entire cities, tactical nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use can have yields as small as about 1 kiloton, compared to the U.S. Hiroshima bomb during World War II, which had a yield of 15 kilotons.

The compact design of these devices allows them to be quietly transported by truck or plane. Aliaksandr Alesin, an independent military analyst based in Minsk, mentioned that these weapons use radiation-free containers and could have been flown into Belarus undetected by Western intelligence.

Belarus has 25 underground Cold War-era facilities designed to withstand missile attacks. These were built for nuclear-tipped intermediate-range missiles, but only five or six of these depots could actually store tactical nuclear weapons. The military operations at all these sites serve to deceive Western intelligence.

At the onset of the war, Putin repeatedly pledged to employ “all necessary means” to safeguard Russia, referencing his nuclear arsenal. Though he has moderated his rhetoric recently, his top deputy continues to evoke the possibility with alarming ease.

In a recent article, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, who briefly served as president between 2008-2012 due to Putin’s term limit, frequently threatens that Moscow won’t hesitate to use nuclear weapons. Medvedev stated that “the apocalypse isn’t just possible but quite likely,” and the only way to avert it is to comply with Russian demands.

Many Western observers view this as empty threats. According to Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Chatham House, Putin appears to have scaled down his nuclear rhetoric in response to signs from China.

Belarusian leader Lukashenko claims that hosting Russian nuclear weapons in his country serves to deter Poland’s aggression. He alleged that several nuclear weapons were covertly flown into Belarus without Western intelligence noticing, with the rest expected to arrive later this year. Moscow and Minsk officials stated that the warheads could be transported by Belarusian Su-25 ground attack jets or attached to short-range Iskander missiles.

However, the claim of such a deployment is questioned by some observers. They argue that the weapons are typically transported by rail, and there have been no signs of the support elements typically associated with weapon shipments.

Opposition to Lukashenko has warned that such a deployment would turn Belarus into a pawn of the Kremlin. While Lukashenko perceives these weapons as a “nuclear umbrella” protecting Belarus, they make Belarus a potential target, says Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader who unsuccessfully attempted to unseat the authoritarian leader in an election widely considered fraudulent.

Yuras Karmanau in Tallinn, Estonia, Jill Lawless in London, and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to this report.

The Big Big News is grateful for the nuclear security coverage support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Outrider Foundation. The AP retains full responsibility for all content.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Putin’s nuclear deployment in Belarus

What is Putin’s alleged recent action with regards to nuclear weapons?

According to President Vladimir Putin, Russia has moved some of its short-range nuclear weapons into Belarus, bringing these weapons closer to Ukraine and NATO’s boundary.

How has the West reacted to this supposed nuclear deployment?

The U.S. and NATO haven’t confirmed this move yet. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Moscow’s rhetoric as “dangerous and reckless.”

Are there doubts about the truth of this nuclear weapons relocation?

Yes, while some experts question Putin’s claims, others note that Western intelligence might face challenges in tracking such movement.

How are these nuclear weapons being transported?

Aliaksandr Alesin, an independent military analyst, said the weapons use containers that emit no radiation and could be discreetly carried on a truck or plane into Belarus without Western intelligence noticing.

How have the Belarusian leader and opposition responded to this situation?

Belarusian leader Lukashenko claims hosting Russian nuclear weapons serves to deter Poland’s aggression. On the other hand, the opposition, represented by Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, warns that such a deployment turns Belarus into a target and a hostage of the Kremlin.

More about Putin’s nuclear deployment in Belarus

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Globetrotter007 July 27, 2023 - 6:12 am

I traveled to Belarus once, wonderful ppl there. hope they’re safe from all this.

Peace4all July 27, 2023 - 12:40 pm

Hate seeing the world on edge like this. we all just want to live in peace. is that too much to ask?

AConcernedCitizen July 27, 2023 - 1:07 pm

No matter who u are, where u from, we should all be against nuclear warfare, period.

AnalyticalAlice July 28, 2023 - 4:16 am

Just another geopolitical chess game it seems. though, the stakes are way too high!


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