The probability of TNW deployment in Belarus is high.
Data as of 18:00 (GMT+3) 04.04.2023
In the evening of March 25, 2023, an interview with Vladimir Putin was broadcast on the air of Russia 1 TV channel, where he said that Russia would build a storage for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus (hereinafter — TNW, NW).
According to Putin, the construction of the special storage for TNW in Belarus will be finished by July 1, 2023. Putin was also asked about the transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus, and he answered that Russia is not transferring nuclear weapons to Belarus, but “is going to do the same thing as the U.S. with their allies.”
In the interview, Putin also said that Russia had already helped Belarus to re-equip 10 aircraft to use TNW. He also mentioned the transfer of Iskander operational-tactical missile systems, which could carry TNW. According to Putin, the training of Iskander crews on the use of TNW was to start on April 3, 2023.
We note that for the first time, Lukashenko mentioned the re-equipping of Belarusian aircraft to carry NW at the meeting with Putin in June 2022. Later, on August 26, 2022, Lukashenko stated that Belarusian Su-24 bombers had already been re-equipped to carry NW. However, Su-24 bombers were withdrawn from the Belarusian Armed Forces back in February 2012 and were put into storage. And Lukashenko, most likely, made a mistake, and was talking about Su-25 attack aircraft.
On December 19, 2022, it was announced that Iskander missile system transferred by Russia would be put on combat duty in Belarus. On February 1, 2023, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced that the Belarusian military started full independent operation of the system. Based on the available information, we can consider the following options for the deployment of TNW in Belarus:
— construction (additional equipment) of a storage on the territory of operating ammunition bases (arsenals) of the Belarusian Armed Forces;
— construction of a storage out of the locations of operating military facilities of the Belarusian Armed Forces;
— the use of facilities for the deployment of nuclear weapons of the USSR on the territory of Belarus.
- Construction (additional equipment) of a storage on the territory of operating ammunition bases (arsenals) of the Belarusian Armed Force.
The implementation of such a scenario for the deployment of TNW is preferable for the following reasons:
— separate railroad branches lead to the bases (arsenals) of the Belarusian Armed Forces, which will allow the unimpeded delivery of TNW;
— availability of security (exclusion zone, barbed wire fences, alarms, and other technical means of protection) and engineering (water lines, power lines, etc.) infrastructures;
— possibility to build (re-equip) a storage.
We note that when selecting a location for TNW deployment, locations of the military units that can theoretically use it will also be taken into account. In case with the Belarusian Armed Forces, these are:
The 465th Missile Brigade. Location: Asipovichy, military camp Yuzhny. Coordinates: 53.293111, 28.641903. At the end of 2022, the brigade was supplied with at least a division of Iskander missile systems, capable of using a special (nuclear) warhead. On April 3, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced that Iskander missile systems were sent to Russia for practical training. Among other things, the crews will study the maintenance and use of TNW of Iskander-M missile system.
The 116th attack aviation base. Location: Lida airfield. Coordinates: 53.880525, 25.371644. The aviation base is equipped with Su-25 attack aircraft. On April 3, Minister of Defense of Russia Sergei Shoigu stated that part of Belarusian attack aircraft “acquired the ability to strike enemy targets with nuclear-equipped weapons.” It should be noted that the Belarusian Armed Forces currently have Su-25 attack aircraft in service. According to the guidebook “The Military Balance 2023”, the Belarusian Armed Forces have 22 Su-25 attack aircraft (some of them are Su-25UB trainers). It was also reported that there are about 20 more Su-25 in storage.
It should be noted that in October 2022, a Russian representative stated that Belarus would not be given the technology to re-equip aircraft into nuclear weapon carriers. This means that such re-equipment would have to take place at enterprises of the military-industrial complex on the territory of Russia.
At the moment, the following ammunition arsenals and storages, which hypothetically could be used to deploy TNW, are operating on the territory of Belarus:
The 1405th artillery ammunition base. Location: vicinity of Vialikaya Harozha village, Asipovichy district. Coordinates: 53.313595, 28.803685.
There are outdoor storage sites and ammunition storages on the territory of the base. Outdoors, mainly complete rounds are stored under canopies. The storage sites mainly contain small arms ammunition and ammunition for Smerch and Polonez MLRS. In accordance with the program of the Union State “Improvement of the military infrastructure facilities to be used jointly to support the regional group of troops (forces) of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation”, from 2008 to 2012, activities were carried out to improve the facilities and equip the base with technical means.
At the end of February, the government procurement portal for the second time published a tender for the construction of a fast-build modular barrack with a capacity of 120 people on the territory of the 1405th artillery ammunition base. The cost of the purchase was 850,000 BYN ($300,000). It was later canceled due to the need to make changes to the subject of the public procurement.
There is a railroad near the base (Asipovichy-Mahiliou section).
The 1393rd artillery ammunition base. Location: vicinity of Prybor village, Homel district. Coordinates: 52.381901, 30.747770.
Ammunition storages and a workshop for their repair are located at the base. According to the government procurement portal, in 2022-2023, work was carried out at the base to transform one of the premises into a workshop for repairing shells.
There is a railroad near the base (Homel-Rechytsa section).
The 1562nd technical missile base. Location: Lapichy, Asipovichy district. Coordinates: 53.425959, 28.500864.
The base stores missile weapons and provides them to units of the Belarusian Armed Forces. From 2016 to 2021, more than 300 anti-aircraft guided missiles of various types were repaired at the base.
There is a railroad near the base (Hradzianka-Asipovichy section).
The 391st artillery ammunition base. Location: vicinity of Bobr, Krupki district. Coordinates: 54.326757, 29.256963.
No data on the activity at the base.
There is a railroad branch leading to the territory of the base, which is connected with the Krupki-Talochyn crossing.
The 25th arsenal of missile and artillery weapons. Location: Navakolasava, Stoubtsy district. Coordinates: 53.508511, 26.926297.
The main tasks of the arsenal are: providing the troops with missile and artillery weapons, organizing storage of missile and artillery weapons reserve. According to the government procurement portal, the last activity at the arsenal was the repair of a dormitory in 2022.
There is a railroad branch leading to the territory of the base, which is connected with the Stoubtsy-Dziarzhynsk crossing.
The 43rd arsenal of missiles and ammunition. Location: vicinity of Zakapyttsia railway station and Dubetskaye tract, Dobrush district. Coordinates: 52.457948, 31.553325.
Personnel of the arsenal perform the tasks of storage, receipt and dispatch, repair, and the disposal of ammunition. There is a railroad branch leading to the territory of the arsenal, which is connected with the Zakapyttsia (Belarus)-Zlynka (Russia) crossing. The line has several branches on the territory of the arsenal.
Until the early 1990s, the 388th technical missile base was located on the territory of the arsenal, which stored nuclear ammunition until the early 1980s. Storages for nuclear ammunition at the arsenal were built in the early 1960s. As of December 2013, the temperature in the storages was constantly maintained at +14 degrees. It was reported that the storages were still workable.
According to the public procurement portal, in 2022-2023, a barrack and sewage treatment facilities were repaired on the territory of the arsenal.
The 46th arsenal of missiles and ammunition. Location: Bronnaya Hara village, Biaroza district. Coordinates: 52.613065, 25.067286.
The arsenal performs the following tasks: deployment, storage, preservation, performance of regulatory work and maintenance, repair, disposal and destruction of ammunition and its components, powders and explosives, production and repair of ammunition capping, as well as supplying the troops with ammunition.
There is a railroad branch leading to the territory of the arsenal, which is connected with the Biaroza-Horad-Bronnaya Hara crossing. The line has several branches on the territory of the arsenal.
- Construction of a storage out of the locations of operating military facilities of the Belarusian Armed Forces (Russian Armed Forces).
In this case, we are talking about the construction of a new military facility in which TNW storage will be organized.
The start of such construction won’t be unnoticed and can be detected both by satellite images and by data on activity in the area of the construction.
There is currently no data on the start of such construction of a TNW storage in Belarus. The choice of location will be affected by the factors described above (availability of transport and engineering infrastructure, proximity of TNW delivery to military units for use, etc.).
- The use of facilities for the deployment of nuclear weapons of the USSR on the territory of Belarus.
Nuclear weapons were located on the territory of Belarus until 1996. An extensive network of infrastructure facilities was created for their storage and maintenance. In addition to locations of missile units (regiments and divisions), the central nuclear weapons storage base Homel-30 and several repair and maintenance bases were located in Belarus.
However, the technical condition of the nuclear infrastructure that remains on the territory of Belarus is still unclear. According to data from open sources, we can conclude that the infrastructure for the deployment and storage of nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus is in unsatisfactory condition: the property of such facilities is often looted, buildings and structures have been dismantled or demolished. We have no data that the Ministry of Defense of Belarus (or other government bodies) has been engaged in the maintenance of nuclear weapons storage infrastructure.
We should note that in June 2022, there were unusual visits by, presumably, Russian military to the territory of the 369th missile regiment near Charatsianka village, Zhytkavichy district, Homel region. The regiment was stationed there until 1996. It’s not known for sure what the purpose of these visits was. However, according to open sources, as of November 2017, the territory of the 369th regiment was in an unusable condition.
Experts also expressed doubts that it would be possible to promptly restore TNW storage facilities on the territory of Belarus. It was also noted that previously it took Russia 1,5-2 years to modernize the TNW storages in Kaliningrad and Tver oblasts. However, in this case, a large number of external factors can affect the timing of the reconstruction of storages. For example, when repairing an existing storage, it is necessary to relocate TNW to other storage locations, etc. Therefore, the examples mentioned above may not be relevant for Belarus.
However, at the moment, the option of restoring Soviet-era nuclear weapons storage infrastructure seems to be unlikely.
It’s also important to note the discrepancy between the statements of the Belarusian and Russian parties regarding the deployment of TNW on the territory of Belarus.
For example, while Putin spoke about plans to build a storage for TNW in Belarus (without specifying whether its construction had begun), Aliaksandr Lukashenko said on March 31 that the infrastructure for placing TNW in Belarus was “established and is available.” It was also announced that the Belarusian military was ordered to restore the sites where Topol missile systems with nuclear warheads had been deployed.
Deployment of Topol strategic missile systems in Belarus (as of 1996) Belarusian Hajun
In turn, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Independent States said that the TNW deployed in Belarus would have a “double button.” In other words, decisions on its use will be made together by Belarus and Russia.
Lukashenko also claimed that Belarus would control all weapons deployed on its territory. But Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied such a possibility and recalled Putin’s statement stressing that there is no talk of transferring TNW to Belarus.
The probability of TNW deployment in Belarus is high. The most probable option for its deployment is the development of a storage facility using the existing ammunition storage infrastructure of the Belarusian Armed Forces. We should also consider the option of deploying TNW close to the deployment areas of units of the Belarusian Armed Forces that would be able to use them (Lida and Asipovichy district).
Recent statements by Russian officials indicate that Russia is preparing for the actual deployment of TNW on the territory of Belarus. We are talking about the transfer of Iskander missile systems, the re-equipment of Su-25 attack aircraft for the use of TNW, and the training of personnel to work with the new types of weapons.
The transfer of TNW to the territory of Belarus will be carried out together with movements of special military equipment. For this reason, the delivery of TNW to Belarus won’t be unnoticed.
The discrepancies in the statements of representatives of Belarus and Russia on the issues of TNW control, infrastructure preparation, and other aspects may indicate that there is currently no consolidated and consistent position on these issues. There is no other explanation as to why some statements are actually denied by others. In this regard, something can be clarified during Lukashenko’s visit to Russia, which will take place on April 5-6.