Belarus to join Russia in nuclear weapons drill as ties deepen

Putin stated that the upcoming exercises will take place over three stages, with Belarusian forces joining in the second stage after receiving instructions from Russia’s defense ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the close ally of Belarus will join upcoming Russian military exercises involving non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Putin stated that the upcoming exercises will take place over three stages, with Belarusian forces joining in the second stage after receiving instructions from Russia’s defence ministry. “This time they are held in three stages. At the second stage, our Belarusian colleagues will join our combined actions,” Putin stated.

The Russian leader did not provide further details on the exact scope and scale of Belarus’ involvement. Non-strategic nuclear weapons refer to smaller, tactical nuclear devices designed for battlefield use rather than strategic warheads on long-range missiles. Any steps seen as potentially preparing for the use of nuclear weapons drastically escalate tensions.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the Belarus regime of Alexander Lukashenko has tied itself increasingly closer to Moscow both politically and militarily. Belarus hosted Russian troops that helped launch the initial attack on Kyiv from the north. More recently, Russia has been storing nuclear-capable missiles on Belarusian territory.

While most analysts still see the probability of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine as very low, Putin’s announcement continues a pattern of escalating nuclear rhetoric and sabre-rattling from the Kremlin. Some experts believe Putin hopes to use vague nuclear threats and exercises to project strength and potentially gain negotiating leverage.

“Putin is trying to intimidate Ukraine and the West without actual use of nuclear weapons,” said security analyst Oleksiy Danilov. “Involving Belarus sadly confirms its status as essentially a Russian client state at this point.”

For its part, Belarus condemned Western concerns over the nuclear exercises as “absolutely groundless.” Leaders in Kyiv and allied NATO nations voiced grave alarm at the prospect of neighbouring Belarus now preparing for potential nuclear strikes as well.

While the full extent of Belarus’ role remains unclear, the coordination marks another unsettling development amid the largest ground war in Europe since World War II. Any steps bringing additional actors into potential nuclear strike scenarios only raise the already huge risks of harbouring the conflict further.