Home News Satellite images reveal possible storage site for Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus

Satellite images reveal possible storage site for Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus

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These new security features and other upgrades at an arms depot in central Belarus indicate that Russia is building facilities there that can house nuclear warheads. If Russia does move the weapons there, it would mark the first time Russia has stored weapons abroad since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russia already has nuclear warheads on its own territory close to Ukraine and NATO countries, but by deploying some in Belarus, the Kremlin appears to be trying to emphasize its nuclear threat and bolster its nuclear deterrent.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin mentioned such a site early last year, explain Russia will soon complete the construction of a “special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons” in Belarus.

The New York Times analyzed satellite images and photos and spoke with nuclear weapons and arms control experts to track new construction starting in March 2023.

The site is 120 miles north of the Ukrainian border, on a military base next to the town of Asipovich. Some of the recently constructed structures there have features unique to nuclear storage facilities at bases in Russia. For example, a new high-security area is surrounded by three layers of fencing, in addition to the existing security perimeter throughout the base. Another telltale sign is a covered loading bay that appears to be connected to a hidden Soviet-era underground bunker.

Hans Christensen federation of american scientists Analyzed the siteIt said Belarus’ nuclear development “appears to be designed to unsettle NATO’s easternmost member but will not give Russia a significant new military advantage in the region.”

In contrast to long-range strategic weapons, there is no consensus on the definition of tactical nuclear weapons.But Russia definition Tactical weapons have a range of up to 300 kilometers (about 186 miles). Because the nuclear program is so secretive, Russia may be stockpiling warheads elsewhere in Belarus, and the Kremlin may even move some to the Asipovich site, although all indications suggest otherwise. The Russian and Belarusian defense ministries did not respond to requests for comment.

Nuclear warheads are typically stored near military bases capable of delivering the weapons. The suspected nuclear storage site is located in the same town as Belarus’s Iskander missiles, which can be used to launch nuclear or conventional warheads. Russia delivered Iskander-class aircraft to Belarus in 2022.

Over the past week, both Russia and Belarus have issued statements regarding nuclear weapons exercises.On Monday, the Kremlin said it would Hold military exercises Conduct training with troops stationed near Ukraine on the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.On Tuesday, Belarusian Defense Minister tell state media Inspections of Iskander units and other nuclear weapons delivery systems have begun.

Russia’s remarks drew immediate condemnation from the United States and NATO, which they called “irresponsible remarks.”

“We are reviving Cold War practices and therefore we are reviving Cold War risks,” he said. Jeffrey LewisArms control specialist at the Middlebury School of International Studies in Monterey, California.

In 2023, as new fencing created a higher security area at the Asipovich base, a covered area was renovated to include a truck loading dock, which now has a new roof, allowing No activity is subject to surveillance from above. These renovations are consistent with structures at other former Soviet nuclear storage sites. As shown below, a companion dock in Hungary has an internal entrance leading to an old, tree-covered underground bunker.

William Moonan independent consultant and former Pentagon official Defense Threat Reduction AgencyAsipovich told The Times that the upgraded design features triple fencing, a main entrance and an emergency exit, similar to Russian nuclear warhead storage sites he has seen firsthand. “When we work according to their standards, they will ask for a third layer of fencing,” said Moon, who has worked with Russia on nuclear warhead security.

In addition to increasing security, he said he wanted to provide separate housing for Russian military units that still control the nuclear warheads. Three new buildings, which appear to be for administrative purposes or barracks, have been erected in the warehouse entrance area, and an additional area is currently being bulldozed.

In 2023, a security checkpoint was added at the entrance to the triple-fenced area – a covered inspection area next to the guardhouse. According to reports, such structures have become a fixture at nuclear facilities in Russia over the past two decades. Michael Duizmanwas a colleague of Mr. Lewis’s at Middlebury College. They are a “Unique features not found in other Russian bases,” He said.

In recent weeks, construction on the new building has begun. “Details are still uncertain, but construction has clearly entered a new phase,” Mr. Christensen said.

one air defense Systems have also been introduced to secure the site.It was first spotted disguised in mid-2023, including through radar satellite imagery provided by the space company umbra. One of the anti-aircraft vehicles has been deployed on the site about a mile from the bunker since September.

Asipovich is part of nuclear history. The same site Russia is building today was likely used to store nuclear weapons during the Cold War.The Soviet Union reportedly began deploying nuclear missile brigades in and around the town in the 1960s William Albuquerque, He has served as director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think tank and as a Pentagon and NATO official. The United States also has a military unit that manages nuclear weapons stationed at an artillery and ammunition storage site, he said. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus withdrew all its nuclear weapons.

Declassified photos of the Asipovich site taken by U.S. intelligence satellites during the Cold War appear to show both functions. The southern area is believed to be where conventional weapons are stored, with open spaces and many storage rooms. In a separate, tree-covered northern area, four bunkers can be seen, with a walled compound further north – exactly where the current structure can be seen.

Although in 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty It prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear-weapon states, but it does not prohibit the stockpiling of nuclear weapons abroad if the state that possesses them maintains control.under NATO Nuclear Sharing ArrangementCurrently, the United States possesses nuclear weapons in some member states.

A State Department spokesman would not say whether the United States was monitoring any specific locations in Belarus, but said the department was closely monitoring the situation to “ensure that Russia maintains control of its weapons should any weapons be deployed.” Belarus also fulfills its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. ” one April 2024 State Council Report It stated that the United States will not change its nuclear posture due to developments in Belarus.

Julian E.Barnes Contributed reporting. Phil Robibello, Blakey Migliozzi, David Potee and Alexander Cardia Contributed to visual production.



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