US Intelligence Officials: ‘No Reason to Doubt’ Putin Says Russia Transferred Nuclear Weapons to Belarus



CNN

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has “no reason to doubt” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia has moved an initial batch of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, senior DIA officials said on Friday.

Putin told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum last month that “the first [Russian] nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus,” adding that they were placed there for “deterrence” purposes.

Russia has about 4,477 nuclear warheads deployed and in reserve, including about 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists. It’s unclear how much of this arsenal Putin intends to move, and US and Western officials have not publicly confirmed that any weapons have been transferred to Belarus.

But senior DIA officials told a small group of reporters on Friday that analysts had “no reason to doubt” Putin’s claims, and no reason to doubt “that they had some success” in transferring the weapons.

Officials would not disclose why they believe this. They acknowledged that the weapons are difficult for the US intelligence community to track, even through satellite imagery.

U.S. and Western officials told CNN earlier this month that it did not appear Belarus was finished upgrading storage facilities needed to house tactical nuclear weapons, and available satellite imagery showed no signs of the kind of preparedness and security that would be standard at a Russian nuclear facility.

Other sources, however, told CNN that there are various Soviet-era facilities in Belarus that could potentially house some of the weapons.

When asked last week if he had seen any signs that Russia had moved the weapons, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN the UK had “seen signs of this progress” and noted that Putin “doesn’t always lie.” When pressed, however, Wallace also declined to elaborate on the signs he had seen.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also declined to answer questions earlier this month about the actual location of the weapons, but said the United States expects Russia to “meet” its nonproliferation obligations.

“I will say that we continue to actively monitor reports on the Russian-Belarusian arrangement to ensure that Russia retains control of its weapons should it deploy to Belarus and meets its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” he said during a July 11 briefing. “We will pay close attention to any deviation by Russia.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last month that in the face of aggression he would not hesitate to use Russian tactical nuclear weapons stationed on Belarusian soil.

But senior DIA officials said they did not believe Lukashenko would have any control over the arsenal. It would most likely be fully controlled by Russia, officials said.

DIA officials also said they did not believe the movement of weapons to Belarus would alter the global nuclear landscape or increase the risk of a nuclear incident, as they would be stored rather than forward deployed and controlled by Russian forces.

Miller also said the United States “has seen no reason to adjust our own nuclear posture or any indication that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.”

In his remarks last month, Putin said the rest of the tactical nuclear weapons that Russia intends to transfer to Belarus would be transferred “by the end of the summer or by the end of the year”.

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