Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 61

A flurry of orchestrated leaks from the defense ministries of Russia and Belarus suggests that the return of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus is under consideration, supposedly as a countermeasure to NATO’s action against Serbia. According to unnamed military officials in Moscow and Minsk on March 26, they are analyzing plans to deploy in Belarus several types of Russian nuclear-capable weapons systems: medium-range missiles, tactical TU-22M bombers and strategic TU-160 and TU-95M bombers. The political message contained in these leaks seems to be: “The decision and the timetable for its implementation will depend on the course of events in Yugoslavia.”

Colonel-General Yuri Baluyevsky, head of the Main Department for Operations of Russia’s General Staff, has “categorically denied” the fact of the deployment, but not the consideration allegedly being given to such a move. General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of staff of Russia’s Armed Forces, has unequivocally denied any intent to station nuclear weapons in Belarus: “enlarging the number of nuclear states might be a direct road to World War Three,” Kvashnin told the press (Itar-Tass, March 26, 27).

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s statements on the subject seem marked by a studied ambiguity. Lukashenka alternates between condemning the earlier withdrawal of Russian nuclear weapons from Belarus, and denying any wish to be used by anyone as a “scare figure” who would bring those weapons back in response to NATO’s strikes against Yugoslavia. “Deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus is not under discussion as yet.” “Belarus has not initiated moves concerning the return of nuclear weapons; should the issue arise, the Belarusan side is prepared to discuss it.” “The decision will be neither Yeltsin’s nor Primakov’s, it will be my decision.” Such pronouncements by Lukashenka seem deliberately equivocal (Belapan, Belarusan TV, Itar-Tass, March 26).