Russia sends nuclear-capable bombers on patrol over Belarus

MOSCOW – Russia on Saturday sent a pair of nuclear-capable long-range bombers to patrol the skies of Belarus, a mission intended to underline the close defense ties between the two allies amid tensions with the West.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the two Tu-22M3 strategic bombers were being trained to “perform joint tasks with the Belarusian air force and air defense”. Su-30 fighters that Russia supplied to Belarus escorted the bombers.

Saturday’s four-hour patrol marked Russia’s third such mission to Belarus since last month and took place in the middle Westerners worried about accumulation of Russian troops near Ukrainian border.

Moscow has denied having plans to invade Ukraine and pressured the United States for security guarantees that would rule out NATO expansion in Ukraine or the deployment of weapons there. The United States and its allies will almost certainly reject Moscow’s demands.

Some Ukrainian officials fear that Russia is using Belarus as a base for attack their country North. Amid his own tensions with the European Union, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said last month that his country would be ready to welcome Russian nuclear weapons.

The European Union has accused the authoritarian Lukashenko of encouraging migrants and refugees to use his country as a backdoor to illegally enter neighboring EU member countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The EU has imposed sanctions on Lukashenko’s government for its crackdown on internal dissent after Lukashenko’s contested re-election in 2020.

The Belarusian leader did not specify what kind of Russian weapons Belarus would be ready to receive, but noted that the former Soviet nation has carefully preserved the necessary military infrastructure dating back to the days of the USSR.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Lukashenko’s offer “a serious warning sparked by irresponsible Western policy”.

Belarus’ top diplomat Vladimir Makei supported Lukashenko’s statement in an interview published on Saturday. He said Belarus may agree to host nuclear weapons as part of its response to possible NATO activities in Poland.

Echoing Russian concerns over growing Ukraine-NATO ties, Makei said the Western military alliance is making Ukraine a “bridgehead against Russia.”

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