While there has been some confusion about exact numbers and timing, the last Russian SS-25 mobile strategic nuclear missiles are apparently being withdrawn from Belarus. This means that President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has hinted on several occasions that Minsk and Moscow might use the missiles as a bargaining chip in efforts to stop NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, will fulfill his country’s pledge to be nuclear-free by the end of the year.
What many regarded as contradictory reports from Russian and Belarusan sources on the withdrawal might really have involved problems of definition. On November 22 sources in Belarus said that the last 14 of what had once been 96 Russian missiles would leave the country on November 26. Then, on November 23, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) press center announced that the last Russian nuclear warheads had been withdrawn from Belarus that day. Both accounts are probably true. The SRF would not move the missiles on their transporter-erector-launchers with their nuclear warheads installed, and could well have downloaded the warheads and shipped them back to Russia as announced. The missiles themselves would then cross the border separately. (Interfax-West, November 22; Interfax, November 23)