Belarus launches nuclear drills a day after Russia announces them, with Ukraine in mind

Belarus has launched drills involving missiles and warplanes capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons

The Associated Press
Tuesday 07 May 2024 16:57 BST

Belarus on Tuesday launched drills involving missiles and warplanes capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, which close ally Russia has deployed there amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.

The Belarusian maneuvers began a day after Russia announced plans to hold similar drills simulating the use of battlefield nuclear weapons in what it cast as a response to statements by Western officials signaling possibly deeper involvement in the war in Ukraine. It was the first time such an exercise had been publicly announced by Moscow.

Belarus' Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said a unit of Iskander short-range missiles and a squadron of Su-25 fighter jets will take part in the drills.

The maneuvers began as Russian President Vladimir Putin was inaugurated to a fifth term on Tuesday, vowing to ensure Russia's security.

Last year, Russia moved some of its tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, which also borders Ukraine and NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has relied on close ties with Russia and provided his country as a staging ground for the war in Ukraine.

Moscow has emphasized that the tactical nuclear weapons deployed to Belarus remain under Russian military control.

The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which has a 1,084-kilometer (673-mile) border with Ukraine, would allow Russian aircraft and missiles to reach potential targets there more easily and quickly if Moscow decides to use them. It also extends Russia’s capability to target several NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe.

Unlike nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can destroy entire cities, tactical nuclear weapons intended for use against troops on the battlefield are less powerful. Such weapons include aerial bombs, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery munitions.

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