- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, one of the closest allies of Russia.
Tactical vs Strategic Nuclear Weapons
- Tactical nuclear weapons are small nuclear warheads and delivery systems meant to carry out a limited strike in a smaller area. On the other hand, strategic nuclear weapons are understood to mean those causing greater, large-scale damage.
- Tactical nuclear weapons have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than strategic nuclear weapons which are capable of destroying whole cities.
- Construction of storage facilities for nuclear weapons in Belarus will be completed by July 1. It is not disclosed by Russia how many nuclear weapons will be stationed there or when they will be deployed.
- Russia already has helped modernize Belarusian warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
- The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
- If Russia sends nuclear weapons to Belarus, it will mark their first deployment outside Russian borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s. Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan inherited massive nuclear arsenals after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 but agreed to ship them to Russia in the following years.
Why is Russia deploying it?
- The decision was prompted by the U.K.’s decision to supply armour-piercing rounds containing Depleted Uranium to Ukraine, which have been described by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal”.
- It is probably also meant to dissuade the West from giving more advanced weapons to Ukraine.
- Stationing such weapons in Belarus, which has a 1,084-kilometer border with Ukraine, will enable Russia to carry out strikes easier and faster. It would also extend Russia’s capability to target several NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe.
Does it violate any international agreements?
- Russia claims that the positioning of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by Russia does not violate any international agreements that Russia has signed because the control over the weapons would remain with Russia just as the U.S. retains control over its tactical nuclear weapons on its allies’ territories in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
- There have been no arms control agreements between the U.S. and Russia on tactical nuclear weapons unlike in the case of strategic nuclear weapons.
- The latest move by Russia clearly escalates the Russia-Ukraine war to an entirely new dimension — the nuclear realm — by bringing tactical nuclear weapons literally next door to NATO members.
- It also gives the West an opportunity to use this pretext to further escalate the war.
Russia- Belarus Relations
- A former Soviet state, Belarus is one of the closest and few remaining allies of Russia.
- Significance for Russia: Belarus’ geo-strategic position is very important for Russia as it shares borders with Ukraine and three NATO members — Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland. Thus, Russia wants to keep Belarus in its sphere of influence and therefore supports the regime of Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko (often dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator’).
- Russia-Ukraine war: Belarus has been used as a forward base by Russia for power projection. In fact, Belarus has been used as a launchpad by Russia to send troops and launch strikes in the ongoing war. Since the outbreak of the war, Belarus has supported Russia during voting at the UN General Assembly resolutions.
- Military ties: Belarus is a member of the Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia leases two military installations in Belarus, both inherited from Soviet times.
- Economic Ties: Belarus is a member of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Belarus gets subsidised oil and natural gas imports from Russia.
- Social ties: Belarus is predominantly Orthodox like Russia with its population almost entirely-Russian speaking. There are only a few border controls between the two countries.
Scenario in India and Pakistan
- Pakistan has tactical nuclear delivery capability in the form of Nasr missile system. This has created possibilities of Pakistan launching a theatre-level nuclear attack on India’s strike corps.
- However, despite having a similar tactical nuclear capability (Prahaar missile system with a range of 150-300 km), India has refused to enter the ‘tactical’ equation and has retained its original doctrinal position that any nuclear use (tactical or strategic) will invite a massive retaliation.