Satellite imagery obtained from the start of September in Belarus has uncovered covert radiological warfare exercises conducted by a group of post-Soviet states. This has raised concerns among analysts that Russia may be planning to deploy nuclear weapons within Belarusian territory.
The imagery, collected by geospatial intelligence company BlackSky and independently verified by specialist defense services company Preligens, reveals the decontamination of military vehicles during Exercise Barrier at Bretsky Training Ground. This exercise is designed to prepare ground forces for combat operations in a hazardous radiated environment.
Analysts from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Polish Institute of International Affairs are now considering potential nuclear sites in Belarus that could host warheads under the supervision of Russia’s elite 12th GU MO, the directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense responsible for its nuclear capability.
While the CSTO, a collective security treaty organization, claims that Exercise Barrier involved activities related to containing biological hazards, the imagery suggests otherwise. According to William Alberque, the director of strategy, technology, and arms control at IISS, the photos show personnel engaging in practices characteristic of radiological decontamination. One photo even features a soldier in protective clothing with Russian insignia guarding materials marked as radioactive waste.
The decision by the CSTO to conduct radiological exercises in Belarus this year as part of the Combat Brotherhood 2023 joint-training exercise has been viewed by analysts as a message that Russia is seriously considering transferring nuclear weapons to Belarus. This subtle signaling is meant for an international community of national security experts, signaling a potential shift in Russia’s defense posture.
While there have been previous statements from leaders in Russia and Belarus suggesting the possibility of a nuclear weapons transfer, the construction of transport requirements for such a transfer has not been pursued by either country. This has led to doubts about the actual likelihood of the transfer taking place.
However, the decisions to conduct radiological exercises in Belarus still have implications for national security analysts. It adds to the perceived threat landscape and indicates a potential escalation ladder in nuclear security calculations.
In conclusion, the satellite imagery provides evidence of radiological exercises in Belarus, raising concerns about the possibility of Russia delivering nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory. The situation is being closely monitored by analysts, who are assessing the potential risks and implications for national security.