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Tsikhanouskaya is Right: Deploying Nuclear Weapons Violates Belarus’ International Obligations, Constitution

Russian Iskander-K missile launched during a military exercise at a training ground in Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

leader of Belarusian democratic opposition

“The deployment of any kind of nuclear weapons in Belarus is not only a violation of international commitments such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. It also violates our non-nuclear status under the Constitution...”


On May 25, Russia moved forward with plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, two months after President Vladimir Putin first announced Russia would station such weapons in Belarus.

Also on May 25, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya condemned the nuclear weapons agreement between Minsk and Moscow.

The European Union recognizes Tsikhanouskaya as the country’s rightful leader, having rejected incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory in Belarus’ 2020 elections.

Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement posted on Twitter that the nuclear weapons agreement with Russia violates Belarus’ constitution and its international obligations:

“The deployment of any kind of nuclear weapons in Belarus is not only a violation of international commitments such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. It also violates our non-nuclear status under the Constitution...”

That is true.

Russia’s transfer of nuclear weapons to Belarus explicitly violates the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. Belarus also pledged to observe its non-nuclear status by signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In addition, Belarus’ 1994 constitution prohibits deploying nuclear weapons on its territory.

In 2022, the Lukashenko regime removed nuclear-free status from Belarus' supreme law. However, neither the Belarusian opposition nor the West recognized that change as legal.

According to the agreement between Moscow and Minsk, Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be stored on the territory of Belarus.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who accused “the collective West” of “essentially waging an undeclared war” against Russia and Belarus, said that Iskander-M missiles, which can carry nuclear warheads, had been handed over to the Belarusian armed forces. He also said some Su-25 jets had been converted for possible nuclear weapons use, Reuters reported.

A Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Loophole

Belarus gained independence in December 1991, following the signing of the Belovezhskaya Accords, which effectively dissolved the Soviet Union.

In February 1993, Minsk acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), thereby agreeing never to acquire nuclear weapons. By November 1996, Belarus had transferred all nuclear weapons on its territory to Russia.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based think-tank, “[n]o nuclear forces have been stationed in Belarus since that time.”

Under the NPT, non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons. However, the treaty says nothing about deployment of nuclear weapons by a nuclear power on the territory of a non-nuclear country.

Several NPT signatories — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey — have used that loophole. As of 2005, 180 tactical B61 American nuclear bombs were deployed in those countries under NATO’s nuclear sharing program.

Members of the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as some political movements in Europe, have argued that the deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons in NPT signatory countries violates Articles I and II of the treaty, which prohibits “non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty … to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons.”

Moscow and Minsk claim that deploying Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus does not violate the NPT since Moscow says it will retain control over the missiles.

However, Russia has repeatedly accused the United States of violating the NPT in connection with the deployment of such munitions in European countries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on April 22, 2015:

"The Americans are violating the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons because they have tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe on the territory of five countries."

On May 28, Lukashenko said that Russia would provide nuclear weapons to any country that joins the “union state” which Russia and Belarus formed in 1999, citing Kazakhstan as another potential partner.

However, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev rejected Lukashenko’s offer the following day, saying: “[W]e don’t need [nuclear weapons], since we have joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty."

Budapest Memorandum of 1994

On December 5, 1994, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed three identical political agreements, under which three nuclear powers — the U.S., United Kingdom and Russia — gave them security assurances in exchange for their accession to the NPT and renunciation of nuclear weapons.

The key condition for the security guarantees given to Belarus was its commitment “to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory.” The transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus explicitly violates this obligation, even if these weapons will be under Russian control.

On May 26, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said the tactical nuclear weapons agreement between Russia and Belarus contradicts the Budapest Memorandum:

“The decision goes against commitments, which Russia has undertaken in the Budapest Memorandum, whereby Belarus eliminated all nuclear weapons from its territory.”

Non-nuclear Status Under Belarus’ Constitution

Belarus adopted its first constitution as a sovereign independent nation in 1994. It states: “The Republic of Belarus aims to make its territory a nuclear-free zone and the state neutral.”

On February 27, 2022, the Lukashenko regime amended the constitution after a sham referendum, removing the clause on the country’s non-nuclear status.

The EU said the referendum, for which the Belarusian opposition was not allowed to campaign, was held “in a context of widespread human rights violations and its brutal repression against all segments of the Belarusian society.”

The U.S. also dismissed the referendum as bogus.