On May 6, 2021, Russia and Belarus reached an agreement that would permit the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, amid rising tensions between the two countries. The agreement comes after ongoing talks between the two countries on the deployment of Russian weapons in Belarus. This agreement marks the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that a nuclear weapons system will be placed in Belarus.
Under the agreement, Russia will deploy at least two battalions of nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles as well as other nuclear-capable aircraft, ships, and defense systems. These weapons will be under the control and administrative authority of the Belarusian Defense Ministry. The agreement will also create a “joint operational command” for the deployed weapons, which will be led by a Russian general but staffed by both Russian and Belarusian personnel.
The agreement follows months of increasingly tense relations between the two countries. In 2020, Russia accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of being far too close to the West, and has recently stated its aim to make Belarus more reliant on Moscow. In 2021, Russia imposed sanctions on Belarus and increased its military presence along the Belarusian border. The deployment of these weapons is seen as a part of Russia’s efforts to ensure that it has greater influence in the region.
The agreement has received criticism from the United States and other Western countries. These nations argue that the deployment of nuclear weapons into Belarus is a violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and destabilizes the region.