// Moscow is ready to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus
Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov said in Minsk on Monday that Russia is ready to deploy new military facilities in Belarus, up to nuclear weapons. It is Moscow’s new variant of an asymmetric response to the U.S. plans to deploy missile defense system elements in Eastern Europe. According to Kommersant’s information, Minsk is not against it. However, Russia’s plans to deploy new facilities in Belarus might be hampered by the permanent Moscow-Minsk gas supplies conflicts.
“In response to Washington’s plans, Russia and Belarus might decide to create new joint military facilities, including nuclear ones. Certainly, it will require some cooperation and integration,” Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said in the interview to Interfax news agency on Monday. Russian embassy in Minsk explained: “The ambassador spoke namely about the threat posed by the U.S. missile defense system which the U.S. plans to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moreover, the statement should be regarded in the context of President Putin’s speaking of a possible asymmetric response to these unfriendly initiatives of Washington.”
Thus, Moscow has actually disclosed a new variant of an asymmetric response to the plans to deploy U.S. missile defense system near Russia’s borders. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in early July that Moscow might “deploy new missiles in Russia’s European part, including Kaliningrad,” if Washington rejects President Putin’s offers to jointly use the radar stations in Gabala and Armavir. Then, Vladimir Putin himself announced that Russia, since August 17, resumes constant flights of strategic aviation after a 15-year-long break. Both statements caused deep concern in the U.S. and in Europe.
The variant with deploying Russian missiles in Belarus might cause much more concern. Ivan Makushok, Assistant to the State Secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union State, explained that “Belarus has preserved in perfect condition the entire military infrastructure of the Warsaw Pact times, including the launchers for nuclear-tipped missiles which were exported to Russia after the USSR’s collapse”. “It is unlikely that Moscow would miss that chance. Belarus is Russia’s trump card in the competition with the U.S. It takes less time to bring missiles back to the launching tubes than to build a radar in Poland. So, it would be anticipation rather than response,” said Makushok.
Indeed, the process of nuclear weapons withdrawal from the Belarusian territory began in 1992, in accordance with the U.S.-Soviet SNF-1 Treaty. The process lasted till mid-1990s. The statement that Belarus aims at achieving a non-nuclear status was even recorded in the country’s Constitution, ratified in 1994. Nonetheless, after Alexander Lukashenka came to power, Moscow and Minsk frequently raised the issue of bringing Russian missiles back to Belarus.
Anyway, Minsk was not surprised by the Russian ambassador’s statement. “The issue has not been discussed yet, but you know, we have high level of integration with Russia, and in the military sphere as well. Meanwhile, there already are Russian bases on our territory,” said the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.
Russia’s military officials consider the scenario quite likely as well. “Certainly, it is a political issue. Yet, if the authorities make that decision, there will be no questioning. If the army receives an order, it will deploy a base anywhere,” said the Defense Ministry of Russia.
According to Kommersant’s information, Belarus’ top officials also support the idea to deploy Russia’s nuclear facilities in the republic. Minsk is quite disturbed by the growing U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, and hopes for Russia’s support and protection. Back in April, President Lukashenka promised: “The Belarusian nation has never been and will never be a traitor. We will never let tanks pass towards Moscow.” On August 2, Lukashenka said confidently that Belarus “will be of service to Russia once again”.
However, expressing readiness to host Russian strategic bases, Lukashenka apparently pursues other aims as well. If Moscow makes that step, Minsk will acquire another lever of pressure in the disputes around the supplies of energy carriers. “We cannot, on the one hand, impose unclear oil and gas prices on Belarus, and lead a strategic dialog on the other hand,” said Makushok.
There has recently been a precedent of Minsk’s using Russian bases in Belarus for putting pressure on Moscow. In the midst of the gas war in January, Lukashenka declared he would demand that Moscow should pay the rent of the Volga radar station in Gantsevichi village and the Antei long-wave radar center in Vileika, which provide communication with the Russian Naval Forces’ submarines. The threat was not implemented, though. However, the situation will be different if Russia deploys nuclear weapons in Belarus. Acting as Russia’s security guarantee, Lukashenka will be able to tougher bargain with Moscow for gas, and to demand the guarantees of retaining his power from the Kremlin.
The U.S. State Department has reacted to the announcement of Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov that Russia will place nuclear facilities in Belarus. Washington advised Moscow against the move, saying that the placement of its missile defense elements in Eastern Europe does not present a threat to Russia. Even American experts are beginning to doubt the claims of the U.S. administration, however.
“It's simply untrue to try and assert that the placement of a radar installation and ten interceptors requires any kind of strategic counter on the part of Russia or any other government,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on Tuesday. Russian Ambassador in Minsk Alexander Surikov hinted at exactly that possibility on Monday. He stated that “In response to Washington's plans, Russia and Belarus may make the decision to create new joint military facilities, including nuclear.”
Casey advised Moscow to refrain from responsive measures to U.S. actions in Eastern Europe, since the missile defense system being set up in Poland and the Czech Republic “poses absolutely no challenge, threat, or degradation of the strategic nuclear capabilities of Russia.” “Let's be clear about what our missile defense programs are or aren't. This is a very limited capability system. It's designed to counter a limited threat posed by nations like Iran or others in the Middle East that might, at some point, develop a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Casey repeated Washington's familiar argument that the ten missile interceptors that will be placed in the Czech Republic cannot by their technical specifications compete with Russian ballistic missiles. That claim was disputed on Tuesday evening in the U.S. Congress by Prof. Theodore Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a former employee of the U.S. Defense Department.
Appearing at hearings organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Postol said that the Missile Defense Agency distorted facts about the harmlessness for Russia of the facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. The professor presented calculations that showed that Washington is intentionally exaggerating the speed of Russian ballistic missiles and understating the speed of their own. According to the calculations of Postol and his colleagues, the American missiles would be fully capable of intercepting Russian ones.
Postol also pointed out that, while ten missile interceptors do not pose a threat to the security of Russia, their number could be increased. He added that any military advisor would tell the political leadership of the country to oppose the U.S. plans.
Work on establishing the missile defense bases is moving forward. Polish Deputy Defense Minister Witold Waszczykowski, who is leading the negotiations with the Americans over the radars stations to be placed in his country, announced yesterday that “An agreement between Warsaw and Washington could be ready within weeks. The maximum the work could take is ten weeks.” Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski stated at the beginning of the month that early elections in the country may take place in November, so his government still has time to conclude the agreement with the U.S.