Lukashenko claims Ukraine plotting to overthrow Belarus

Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in Belarus will increase its options for strikes on cities in countries including Norway, Poland and Romania, an arms control expert has warned, with a map showing exactly where they can reach.

But William Alberque also believes the decision has a much more specific intention - namely bringing Minsk under Moscow’s control permanently.

Speaking on Thursday, NATO director-general Jens Stoltenberg said he saw no sign that Russia has changed its nuclear posture after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed that his country had already received some TNWs, something which Russian leader Vladimir Putin himself yesterday confirmed.

However, there is understandable disquiet in Western circles, with Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesman, calling the plans “the latest example of irresponsible behaviour that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago”.

Mr Alberque, Director of Strategy, Technology and Arms Control at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said Belarus was being supplied with air-dropped bombs, to be delivered by Su-25 aircraft based at Lida Air Base, and Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, based in Asipovichi at the 465th Missile Brigade.

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko (Image: GETTY)

He said: “These are battlefield nuclear weapons - not theatre level nor strategic type weapons.

“They are designed to destroy battlefield nuclear targets in the close-in battlefield, including forward-deployed military headquarters, logistics hubs, concentrations of troops, and weapons storage.

“The missiles do not fundamentally change NATO’s defence, but rather, increase the areas that would need coverage by integrated air and missile defence.

“Such defences have been very effective in Ukraine at stopping Russian Iskanders and keeping Russian aircraft from effective air attack.”

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Warsaw Helsinki Ukraine

Warsaw, Helsinki and most of Ukraine are within reach of the Iskanders, Mr Alberque pointed out (Image: Express/IISS)

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He continued: “The Su-25 is a very odd choice for nuclear delivery – it was built by the Soviets with that capability, but it is not really suited for nuclear delivery.

“For the US, for instance, they are delivered by strategic bombers or by stealthy F-35s.

“The Su-25 is a poor cousin of the A-10 Warthog, and is very susceptible to air defences.”

“It is unlikely to be able to penetrate Allied air defences and therefore is unlikely to successfully hold Western targets at high risk.

Nevertheless, referring to a map included in a recent article which he wrote for IISS, Mr Alberque stressed: “You can see the Iskander provides additional coverage of Nordic and Baltic targets already covered by Iskander and Pskov, but does provide new targets in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

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Tactical nuclear weapons explained

Tactical nuclear weapons pose a threat to Ukraine and the rest of Europe (Image: Getty /

“The missiles have a range of 500 km (300 miles or so). They are perfectly capable of destroying civilian targets - infrastructure especially (eg, even a very small battlefield nuclear weapon versus a dam would eradicate the entire structure, not just one span).

“But recall that the bombs that the US used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still within the middle-range of battlefield nuclear weapons (15-40 kilotons), which can range from several tons to three hundred kilotons.”

The map puts Warsaw, Krakow, Helsinki, Bucharest and most of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, within range of the weapons to be stationed in Belarus.

Russia already had the capability to hit all these targets, Mr Alberque emphasised.

He said: “We don’t show on the map the Iskander base over by Pskov (near St Petersburg), so Helsinki is within reach from there and from Kaliningrad. Warsaw also is in range from Kaliningrad.

Alexander Lukashenko

Alexander Lukashenko is now "forever indebted" to Russia, said Mr Alberque (Image: GETTY)

“Belarus does put alternative options and additional angles of attack on shared targets but the additional targets are Slovakia, half of Hungary and Romania, more of Ukraine (including Odesa), and all of Moldova from a land-based missile.

“All of these targets are reachable by ALCMs fired from Russian heavy and medium bombers, and most of them are in range of Russian ships in the Baltic and Black Seas.”

With respect to the Iskanders, Mr Alberque said basing them in Belarus was also significant because it would mean for the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russian soldiers would be permanently based there.

He said: “Each site will require between 100 and 1,000 troops, depending on how heavy a footprint they want. So, it’ll be a minimum of 200, but could be 2,000 or more.

Russia has periodically declared things like “joint air bases” or the like for the past ten years.

“Each time, Lukashenko has pushed back and managed to dodge any suggestion of permanent stationing.

Russia has been using the Union Treaty and the Union Treaty’s joint military doctrine to make it an inevitability.”


    As such, the decision offered a clear indication of Putin’s true intention - namely “to overcome Belarusian resistance to the permanent stationing of Russian troops on Belarusian territory.”

    He added: “Putin has long tried to get Lukashenko to agree to stationing troops as it would give him far more control over Belarus.

    “If you read Putin’s July 2021 article, it’s clear he thinks not only Ukraine, but Belarus is part of Russia.”

    Clearly, the move would irreparably damage Belarus’s relations with the West, Mr Alberque pointed out.

    He said: “Belarus and Lukashenko can no longer play the double-act he has played throughout his rule – cosying up to Russia when he needs money, cheap gas, or support, and then cosying up to the EU when he wants money, debt relief, or development funds.

    “NATO and the EU are unlikely ever to help Lukashenko again – he has lost his flexibility and now is forever indebted to and entangled by Russia.”

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