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Advancing Defense Preparedness: Russia Collaborates with Belarus to Train Su-25 Fighter Pilots in Cutting-Edge Tactics

A few weeks after Russia announced the development of infrastructure to house tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Belarus, both nations have disclosed that Belarusian pilots of the Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft have completed their training under Russian instructors to operate such nuclear bombs. This follows the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from the Kapustin Yar test range in Kazakhstan’s Astrakhan region on April 12, marking another episode of subtle nuclear brinkmanship between Russia and the United States (US). These developments also occur amid the US conducting the Global Thunder 2023 “nuclear readiness” exercises at the Minot Air Force Base.

The annual exercise, organized by the US Strategic Command, is also intended to serve as an “effective, deterrent force.” Russia-Belarus vs US-Europe Russia maintains a union agreement with Belarus that closely aligns their political, economic, and military policies. Russian forces utilized Belarusian territory to advance into Ukraine from the north in February 2022 and have since maintained a presence in Belarus. Deploying Russian tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in Belarus brings them closer to potential targets in Ukraine and NATO member countries in Eastern and Central Europe, as reported by the Associated Press.

Belarus shares a 1,250-kilometer (778-mile) border with NATO members Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The West has not reacted alarmingly to the TNW issue thus far. Thus, these actions appear to be deterrent measures, signaling Europe not to escalate the war in a manner that threatens Russia’s fundamental territorial sovereignty. At a broader level, this can also be seen as a response to Finland’s NATO membership, which, despite posing no direct threat to Russia, is perceived as part of Moscow’s decade-long efforts to strategically isolate it. Small weapons, Big Message According to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD), the Aerospace Forces Training Center provided additional training for the “flight and engineering personnel of the Air Force and Air Defense Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the operation and combat utilization of the Su-25 ground-attack aircraft.” However, the TNWs were not directly mentioned.

The statement read, “The training included both theoretical courses and practical exercises under the supervision of experienced Russian instructors, allowing for the improvement of flight personnel’s practical skills and the mastery of new methods of employing modern aviation weapons, including special munitions.” “Special munitions” refers to low-yield nuclear weapons. The term seems to have been deliberately used to avoid provoking or alarming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) while still signaling a credible nuclear deterrent. The statement added that the training program has been “fully completed by Belarusian servicemen” and that the acquired “expertise and skills will be used to ensure the military security of the union state.” This aligns with Putin’s earlier statements about the use of nuclear weapons, emphasizing that they would only be employed if Russia faced a physical, “existential” threat. A tweet from the Belarusian MoD confirmed the training but did not mention or hint at the TNWs. Instead, it posted a video of a pilot discussing the exercises with Russian instructors. The tweet referred to it as “additional training of the flight and engineering personnel of the air force and air defense forces of the Republic of Belarus” and stated that it had been completed as part of the program for operating and utilizing the Su-25 attack aircraft. Russia Following Up on Nuclear Announcements In late March, Putin stated that the construction of storage facilities for TNWs in Belarus would be finished by July 1.

Last year in August, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko mentioned that Russia had assisted in the modernization of Belarusian warplanes for carrying nuclear weapons and had supplied Iskander short-range missiles that could be equipped with nuclear warheads. However, Putin clarified that Russia would retain control over any nuclear weapons deployed to Belarus in terms of command, control, and the decision-making process. This is similar to how the US controls its tactical nuclear weapons on the territories of NATO nations. ICBM Test On April 11, 2023, Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Kapustin Yar test range in Kazakhstan’s Astrakhan region. The launch aimed to test “promising combat equipment for intercontinental ballistic missiles” and demonstrated the effectiveness of the design and technical solutions utilized in the new strategic missile systems. The missile warhead struck a target at the Sary Shagan firing range in Kazakhstan, and all the launch objectives were achieved.

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