“The transfer of nuclear charges has begun,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced during a meeting in Moscow on May 25. A disturbing statement, several hours after the signing of a decree between the two countries providing for the deployment of “tactical” nuclear weapons in Belarus. Vladimir Putin had already announced this decision on March 25, fueling fears of an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, in a country at the gates of NATO.
Can these nuclear warheads be a game-changer?
The deployment of nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory would be a first since the fall of the USSR. Russia has announced that it will retain control of nuclear warheads, which could be launched using Su-25 aircraft or Iskander missile systems. In early April, Belarusian soldiers began training on one of these systems, according to Moscow.
If this decision seems worrying, its scope must be put into perspective, according to specialists. “From a military point of view, the deployment of nuclear warheads does not really matter, because everything that is going to be delivered can already be launched from Russia”, explains Konrad Muzyka, a Polish military expert, who comes to present its conclusions to NATO on the military situation in Belarus. Moscow already has nuclear capabilities in the Kaliningrad enclave and on the border with Belarus, a sufficient distance to cover Ukrainian territory and part of the EU. According to the Polish expert, this decision is “a political signal from the Kremlin to the West to force them to sit down at the negotiating table, not on nuclear issues, but on the trajectory of the NATO-Russia relationship”. .
Can the Belarusian army go to war?
If Lukashenko is very dependent on Russia, which helped him with its repressive capacities to put down the aborted revolution of 2020, sending troops to Ukraine remains unlikely. The Belarusian armed forces, estimated at 48,000 men, remain poorly trained and poorly equipped. For the moment, Minsk provides training places, instructor officers and some equipment, even if the majority of its poorly maintained equipment dates from the Soviet era. The opening of a northern front – composed essentially of impassable and mined marshes – seems unlikely.
Is Lukashenko sick?
Since the military parade on May 9 in Moscow where he seemed weakened, the 68-year-old leader had not appeared in public, causing a wave of rumors about his state of health. Returning to official television a few days later, the dictator appeared tired, with a bandage on his left hand, during a visit to a military base. Lukashenko finally declared on May 23 before state media that he had a simple virus. “If anyone thinks I’m going to die, calm down, I’m not going to die, guys. You’ll have to fight with me for a very long time yet,” he said, in his familiar aggressive tone. which he uses to claim to be a “man of the people”.
Who to succeed him?
If the opposition in exile awaits this moment impatiently, a political transition seems far away, as the regime in Belarus is padlocked. According to the constitution, in the event of the president’s death, it is up to the President of the Council of the Republic of Belarus, Natalia Kotchanova, to replace him. Chief of staff for Lukashenko’s election campaign in August 2020 and an integral part of the regime, she is also the subject of Western sanctions for her role in the crackdown in 2020.
“He is a loyal person supporting the cult of Lukashenko’s personality,” said Ekaterina Pierson-Lyzhina, a political scientist specializing in Belarus. In practice, a member of the security apparatus could also appropriate power. “Given the extent of cooperation between the Russian and Belarusian security services, I would have a hard time imagining that anyone succeeding Lukashenko would not be validated by Russia to some extent”, abounds Konrad Muzyka. In 2020, the authoritarian leader who had just been fraudulently re-elected warned: “there will be no one else in my place until I am killed.”