Belarus to Host Russian Nukes
President Vladimir Putin says Russian nuclear weapons under Russian command will be stationed in Belarus this summer
Russian tactical nuclear weapons might arrive in Belarus as early as this summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed on Saturday. Moscow is completing the construction of a specialized storage facility for such arms, amid repeated calls by Minsk to deploy them on its soil, he added.
The site in Belarus will be ready by July 1, Putin told Russia 24 TV. The president also said that Moscow does not plan to hand over control of any tactical nuclear weapons to Minsk and that it would only deploy its own arms to Belarus. He did not specify when exactly the weapons would be transported to the new site.
The move was prompted by the UK’s decision to provide Kiev with depleted uranium munitions, Putin explained. The UK announced earlier in March that it plans to send the shells to Ukraine for use with Challenger 2 battle tanks. Moscow blasted the move as a sign of “absolute recklessness, irresponsibility and impunity” on the part of London and Washington.
Putin emerges from a helicopter at the Krymsk air base in southern Russia in January 2013. An officer carrying a nuclear briefcase is saluting in the background.
The US dismissed Russia’s concerns by calling depleted uranium shells a “commonplace type of munition” that has “been in use for decades.” The Russian Defense Ministry then warned that their use could trigger nothing short of a radioactive disaster in Ukraine, citing the aftermath of the use of such munitions by NATO in Iraq.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly raised the issue of threats posed to his nation by nuclear weapons deployed by the US to EU countries. In October 2022, he pointed to “nuclear sharing” talks between Washington and Warsaw, warning that nuclear weapons could be placed in Poland, which borders Belarus.
Minsk needs to take “appropriate measures” to address this threat, Lukashenko said at that time, adding that he would discuss the matter with Moscow.
Currently, US nuclear weapons are deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Türkiye. In 2021, Russia called on the weapons to be repatriated as part of its security proposals, but the US and NATO refused.
The Russian president is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to using Russian nuclear weapons, both strategic and non-strategic, according to Russia’s nuclear doctrine.
The so-called nuclear briefcase, or “Cheget” (named after Mount Cheget in the Caucasus Mountains), is with the president at all times. The Russian defence minister, currently Sergei Shoigu, and the chief of the general staff, currently Valery Gerasimov, are also thought to have such briefcases.
Essentially, the briefcase is a communication tool which links the president to his military top brass and thence to rocket forces via the highly secret “Kazbek” electronic command-and-control network. Kazbek supports another system known as “Kavkaz”.
Footage shown by Russia’s Zvezda television channel in 2019 showed what it said was one of the briefcases with an array of buttons. In a section called “command” there are two buttons: a white “launch” button and a red “cancel” button. The briefcase is activated by a special flashcard, according to Zvezda.
If Russia thought it faced a strategic nuclear attack, the president, via the briefcases, would send a direct launch order to general staff command and reserve command units which hold nuclear codes. Such orders cascade swiftly down different communications systems to strategic rocket force units which then fire at the United States and Europe.
If a nuclear attack were confirmed, Putin could activate the so-called “Dead Hand” or “Perimetr” system of last resort: essentially computers would decide doomsday. A control rocket would order nuclear strikes from across Russia’s vast armoury.