Could Putin arm Belarusian jets with nuclear weapons?

Fears that the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces could become nuclear capable have been raised after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that its jets were being converted to carry “special warheads”.

During a visit to Minsk on December 19, 2022, Putin said Russia will continue training Belarusian pilots to fly jets that have been refurbished to carry such weapons.

At a meeting with Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said: "I think it would be possible to continue implementing the proposal made by the Belarusian President to train crews for Belarusian combat planes, which have already been retooled to potentially use air-based munitions with a special warhead.”

The Belarusian air arm currently operates four Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker-H and eight Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29BM (Belarus Modified) Fulcrum multi-role fighters, along with 67 Su-25 Frogfoot-A/B ground attack/strike jets and 26 MiG-29 Fulcrum-B/Cs.

Aircraft serial/Bort No ’18 Red’ returns to base after a training mission
A Belarusian MiG-29 (Bort No ’18 Red’) returns to base after a training mission. Belarusian MOD

Defence experts fear the move could be part of a build-up to Belarus joining Russia in a fresh offensive against neighbouring Ukraine early next year.

At the meeting, Lukashenko said: "I have to tell you that we've prepared the aircraft. It turned out we've had such aircraft since the Soviet times. We tested them in the Russian Federation. We are now working with Russians to train the crews able to fly these aircraft that carry special ammunition.”

The Belarusian president also revealed that Russian-donated ground-based air defence systems had also become operational in his country.

Addressing Putin, Lukashenko said: “Today we've put the S-400 [air defence missile] complex that you transferred to Belarus into a state of combat-readiness, as well as, most importantly, the Iskander complex, which you have also handed over to us after promising it half a year ago.”