Transfer Of Russian Nuclear Warheads To Belarus Underway, Confirms Polish President

The President of Poland Andrzej Duda has confirmed that a Russian plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus is in progress. Under this plan, Belarus, which borders Russia to the east and Poland to the west, will host short-range nuclear weapons that remain under Russia’s control. “Indeed, this process is taking place, we are seeing that” said President Duda at a press conference on August 22nd, 2023. He added that the development is “changing the architecture of security in our part of Europe.”

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko announced the project in March and declared in June that it had already begun, President Duda’s comments mark the first corroboration of these claims by any third party. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described the proposal as “reckless and dangerous” in June but denied having observed any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture. Analysts had previously expressed doubt that any nuclear weapons would actually be moved. Speaking to Times Radio in June, Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy James Rogers said “There is some possibility that this [plan to station nuclear weapons in Belarus] could only be a bluff.”

The greatest danger posed by Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus is that they will spur escalation by NATO. Russia already has nuclear weapons stationed in Kaliningrad which are capable of striking Poland and other NATO member states in eastern Europe, so positioning short-range weapons in Belarus does not extend the range of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The real threat is that the placement of Russian nuclear warheads on NATO’s doorstep will prompt a response in kind.

There is already evidence that the Russian gambit has spooked Poland. After details of the plan emerged in July, the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced his intention to join the NATO Nuclear Sharing Programme. This would involve the relocation of nuclear weapons from one of the nuclear-armed states in NATO – the US, the UK, or France – to Poland. Such a move would almost certainly provoke further belligerence from Russia and Belarus.

This episode proves that Western analysts who assume President Putin is bluffing about his readiness for nuclear conflict do so at their own peril. The use of nuclear weapons remains a strategically unwise option, but that may change as the war in Ukraine grinds on and Russia becomes more desperate for a decisive victory. President Putin stands to lose everything if his special military operation is a failure, so he may risk everything to salvage it.

Matthew Price