Belarus Addresses Nuclear Weapons in New Military Doctrine

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 39

(Source: TASS)

Executive Summary

  • Belarus’s new military doctrine appears to emphasize tactical nuclear weapons as a means of preventing others from attacking the country.
  • While high-ranking military officials use generic phrases about the role of tactical nukes, lower-ranking officials hint at provisions for preemptive nuclear strikes against adversaries.
  • Russia controls the nuclear warheads on Belarus’s territory, though Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka also plays a role in the decision-making process for their potential use.

On February 20, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Belarus’s national security heads to discuss revising the country’s military strategy. Lukashenka called for security officials to discard illusions of a diplomatic settlement in the conflict between Russia and the West since international law has been unable to relieve the tension. He also said that the possibility of World War III cannot be discounted and that security forces must mentally and strategically prepare for this danger (President of Belarus, February 20). As a part of these approach, important discussions were held on Belarus’s nuclear doctrine and the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons as a deterrent for conflict.

A week earlier, the Belarusian Security Council approved a draft of the new National Security Concept and military doctrine of the Republic of Belarus (President of Belarus, February 12). The All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, a new constitutional body, will adopt these documents this spring. Although the government has made efforts to publicize these documents to the public and foreign observers, their explanations lack details about the Russian tactical nuclear weapons deployed on Belarussian territory (Belarusian Military, February 21).

The National Security Concept mentions nuclear weapons only once, referencing the growing number of states that wish to possess nuclear weapons or deploy them on their territory, primarily in Europe (, March 6, 2023). In contrast, the military doctrine remains unavailable to the public. Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, however, asserted that the document conveys Belarus’s views on the tactical nuclear weapons deployed on its territory (, January 16). According to Khrenin, the weapons are essential in deterring potential adversaries from unleashing an attack on Belarus, a necessary security measure due to the war in Ukraine (, January 19).

Victor Gulevich, chief of the Belarusian General Staff, echoed this message during his briefing to the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Belarusian Parliament. According to him, the new military doctrine has preserved Belarus’s peace policy and does not treat any nation as an enemy. He emphasized, however, that political leaders who maintain hostile rhetoric toward Belarus should study the document. Nuclear weapons are listed as one of the main factors of strategic deterrence (, January 31).

Colonel Artyom Butorin, head of the Information and Analytical Department of the Belarusian General Staff, later warned against speculation about the new military doctrine. He claims that the document does not talk about the mechanisms, methods, forms, or tactics of using nuclear weapons. It outlines political provisions in which atomic weapons are a means of strategic deterrence (, February 1).

Lower-ranking army officials have allowed themselves to make more substantive comments. Colonel Andrei Bogodel, deputy head of the General Staff of the Military Academy of Belarus, claims that the updated military doctrine provides for the possibility of a preemptive strike on an enemy in the event of an inevitable war or an imminent threat of military aggression from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin: “If a fight is inevitable, strike first” (, January 24). This reflects the idea of preemptive nuclear strikes against European NATO member states recently articulated by prominent pro-Kremlin Russian foreign policy experts such as Sergey Karaganov, Dmitry Trenin, and Fedor Lukyanov (Russia in Global Affairs, September 26, 2022; RIA Novosti, June 26, 2023). Belarus’s leadership also used this preemptive logic to justify Russian missile strikes launched from Belarus against Ukrainian military facilities at the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They claim that Ukrainians were ready to attack the territory of Belarus. In addition, Lukashenka emphasized that if the Russian military had missed this moment, they would have faced a massive blow from NATO troops, not Ukraine (President of Belarus, July 21, 2022).

Bogodel also claimed that the new military doctrine refers to a tactical nuclear deterrence order. Its details will be specified in later documents, including classified ones. The military official, however, underlined that the deployment of atomic weapons would provide the capability to launch a nuclear strike if hostile troops gathered around Belarus. According to Bogodel, if the command does not use tactical nuclear weapons against the adversary on the first day in the event of an intervention, then the enemy will simply not allow these weapons to be used on the second day. In addition, Bogodel clarified that the list of targets for tactical nuclear strikes consists of enemy troop groupings and their command-and-control posts but excludes civilian settlements (, January 24). According to Bogodel, tactical nuclear weapons are part of the Regional Troop Grouping of Belarus and Russia, which Alyaksandr Lukashenka commands (, January 22).

Although Bogodel did not offer further details on the structure of the Regional Troop Grouping, his reference to Lukashenka points to the president’s participation in the decision-making process. The Regional Troop Grouping takes orders from the Supreme State Council, which consists of the Belarusian and Russian presidents, prime ministers, and the leaders of the lower and upper houses of both countries’ parliaments (EDM, March 2, 2020). If Russian leadership decides to use tactical nuclear weapons from Belarusian territory against Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank, then orders will come from the Supreme State Council. Lukashenka also signed a decree containing an algorithm for using tactical nukes carriers, the Iskander-M missile system. According to the document, Iskanders with tactical nukes can be used only with Lukashenka’s consent. From the Belarusian side, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus are also involved in the decision-making (, January 19).

Russia retains direct control over the nuclear warheads deployed on Belarusian territory through the 12th Main Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense. Belarus, nevertheless, maintains control over the means of their delivery. Such distribution of functionalities allows Minsk to participate in the decision-making process for the potential use of the tactical nukes. This, however, exposes Belarus to a potential retaliatory strike from the United States or NATO. Even so, neither Putin nor Lukashenka believes that such retaliation from the West will ever occur (President of Belarus, October 21, 2022).