TechBelarus regains nuclear arms. Lukashenko embraces atomic power amid escalating regional tensions

Belarus regains nuclear arms. Lukashenko embraces atomic power amid escalating regional tensions

The Russian intercontinental ballistic missile system Yars RS-24 during the military parade for Victory Day in Moscow in 2015.
The Russian intercontinental ballistic missile system Yars RS-24 during the military parade for Victory Day in Moscow in 2015.
Images source: © Licensor

7:44 PM EST, January 20, 2024

In 2023, Russia finally left the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and sent its first nuclear warheads to Belarus. Numerous former USSR countries inherited atomic arsenals after its collapse, but in adherence to international agreements, all of them returned the weapons to Russia. Now, Belarus is the first among these countries to regain its nuclear arms post-independence. But how powerful will this arsenal be?

Belarus and Nuclear Missiles?

The dissolution of the Soviet Union left Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus with several dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles known as RT-2PM Topol, boasting a range of about 7,767 miles. Additionally, the country held an unknown quantity and variety of tactical nuclear missile arsenal. This arsenal is now back under Belarusian control. The Lukashenko government believes this is a necessary measure in response to "escalating political-military tensions in the region" and the escalating tension in relations with Poland.

In state television interviews, Lukashenko warned that if Warsaw ever tried to invade Belarus, he wouldn't hesitate to use all available means, including nuclear weapons. He mentioned that he specifically referred to tactical, not strategic, weapons which are included in the returned arsenal. However, there is no information regarding the possibility of Russia returning the intercontinental Topol missiles which it started to decommission by the end of 2023.

Post-Soviet Weapons Received by Belarus

The strategic RT-2PM Topol missiles are intercontinental weapons, capable of covering about 7,767 miles. These three-stage 21.5-meter (approximately 70 feet 6 inches) long missiles, carrying a maximum load of 1,000 kilograms (2200 lbs), can deliver a 550-kiloton thermonuclear warhead. If such a warhead were to detonate in the center of Warsaw, it would result in a two-kilometer (1.24 miles) diameter fireball at the explosion site and a third-degree burn zone extending to the Goose Settlement on one side of the city and suburban Zabki.

What Lukashenko confirmed to have received are tactical nuclear weapons, carrying smaller warheads and with a limited range. The tactical warheads Russia returned would be launched by the 9K723 Iskander-M complexes, delivered to Belarus in 2022, which have a range of about 310 miles — capable of striking Warsaw if launched from the border. The warheads these missiles carry are estimated to have a maximum yield of 50 kilotons. Hence, if such warheads were launched at the center of Warsaw, they would cause a fireball of over 600 meters (about 1969 feet) in diameter in the downtown area. The thermal radiation zone, causing significant third-degree injuries, would extend from Old Mokotow to Powazki.

While nuclear weapons are now located in Belarus, Moscow retains control over these weapons. Nonetheless, Alexander Lukashenko seems to view them as a source of confidence, emphasizing that no one ever attacked a country equipped with nuclear weapons. He also encourages other countries to form alliances with Russia, assuring that they could consequently receive their own atomic arsenals.

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