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Overview Last updated: June, 2014

Belarus has no weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country transferred all of its Soviet-era nuclear warheads to Russia in the 1990s. It does not possess biological or chemical warfare programs. Though Belarus inherited no major ballistic missile production or design facilities from the Soviet Union, a number of firms continue to cooperate with Russian missile and space enterprises.

Nuclear

When Belarus gained independence in December 1991, there were 81 road-mobile SS-25s on its territory stationed at three missile bases, and an unknown number of tactical nuclear weapons. [1] During the 1980s, a number of units equipped with intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) were also stationed in the Belarusian SSR; however, all of these weapons were eliminated under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by 1991. [2] Following Minsk's ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in February 1993 and accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state in July 1993, Belarus transferred all of its nuclear weapons to Russia, a process completed by November 1996. [3] No nuclear forces have been stationed in Belarus since that time, although the possibility of stationing Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus was broached by a number of Belarusian officials in the late 1990s. [4] Belarus has concluded an IAEA safeguards agreement, and has signed but not yet ratified the Additional Protocol (INFCIRC 495). Belarus participates in other voluntary agreements, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Belarus has a small civilian nuclear research program under the aegis of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences. In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy, there are ongoing efforts as part of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) to convert a booster subcritical assembly, housed at the Sosny facility near Minsk, from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. [5] The United States estimated that, at the time of Belarus' December 2010 commitment to return its highly enriched uranium (HEU) to Russia, Belarus possessed an estimated 230 kg of HEU. [6] The material was provided by the Soviet government for use in Sosny's IRT nuclear research reactor, which was shut down in 1989. [8] The U.S. government pledged to provide both financial and technical assistance to expedite the process of returning the HEU to Russia. [9] Although 85 kg of HEU was removed under the GTRI in November 2010, Belarus suspended cooperation in August 2011 after the United States imposed economic sanctions in response to the government's violent suppression of political opponents under President Lukashenko's regime. [10]

Since approximately 2005, Belarus has been actively laying the groundwork to construct a nuclear power plant in order to expand indigenous energy generation options. In May 2009, Belarus and Russia signed an initial agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy. [11] Belarus had originally planned to offer a tender for the plant's construction but then decided to choose Atomstoyeksport in return for Russian project financing. [12] Financial disagreements with Russia and Lithuanian misgivings over the plant's potential environmental impact slowed progress, and the final contract for the plant's construction was only signed in July 2012. [13] As of August 2013, the plant is under construction in the Astravets district of Belarus's Hrodno region, close to the Lithuanian border. The first reactor is due to become operational in 2018, with a second one to follow in 2020. [14]

Biological

Belarus does not have a biological warfare (BW) program, and there is no indication that it has plans to establish such a program in the future. Although Belarus was a Soviet republic in 1972, it is a signatory of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), which it ratified in 1975. [15]

Chemical

In January 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared that all former Soviet chemical weapons had been transferred to Russia. Belarus does not have a chemical warfare (CW) program, and is a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it ratified in 1996. [16]

Missile

Belarus did not inherit any major missile production or design facilities from the Soviet Union. Dismantlement of the 81 SS-25 ICBM launch positions under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program ceased in 1997 after a chill in U.S.-Belarusian relations, and over 1,000 tons of rocket fuel, as well as over 7,000 tonnes of oxidizer, have never been eliminated. [17] Moreover, a number of Belarusian firms cooperate with Russian missile/space enterprises, including the Minsk Wheeled Prime Mover Plant (MZKT), which produced transporter-erector launcher (TEL) vehicles for SS-25 and SS-27 road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). [18] Some Belarusian enterprises also successfully market and export upgrades, repairs, and refurbishment of Soviet-designed short-range surface-to-air missile systems. [19]

Since 2001, Moscow and Minsk have been discussing creation of a joint missile defense system. However, as of mid-2013, there is no firm agreement on the issue. [20] In 2011, Russia completed transfers of the S-300 (NATO Designation: SA-10 'Grumble') air defense system to Belarus, with four more divisions expected to arrive in 2014. [21] Minsk has placed orders for S-400 (SA-21 'Growler') and Tor-M2 (SA-15 'Gauntlet') systems. S-400 purchases are expected to begin between 2013 and 2015, and Belarus anticipates having 10 Tor-M2 batteries before 2020. [22] Belarus is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), though it has been considered for membership in the past, and is party to the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). [23]

Sources:
[1] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, p. 365, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 2005.
[2] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, p. 367, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 2005.
[3] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, p. 367, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 2005.
[4] Maria Katsva, "Russia Looks to Expand Nuclear Weapons Option," Economists for Peace and Security, June 1999, epsusa.org.
[5] S. Sikorin, J. Thomas, et al., "The Shipment of Russian-Origin Highly Enriched Uranium Spent and Fresh Nuclear Fuel from Belarus and Delivery of Fresh Low Enriched Uranium Nuclear Fuel to Belarus," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Presented at the International Conference on Research Reactors: Safe Management and Effective Utilization, November 2011, iaea.org.
[6] William Potter, "Belarus Agrees to Remove All HEU," CNS Feature Story, 1 December 2010, http://cns.miis.edu; Pavel Podvig, "Belarus will remove HEU by 2012," International Panel on Fissile Materials, 1 December 2010, www.fissilematerials.org.
[7] William Potter, "Belarus Agrees to Remove all HEU," CNS Feature Story, 1 December 2010, cns.miis.edu.
[8] "Joint Statement by Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Martynov," Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, 1 December 2010, www.mfa.gov.by.
[9] Michael Schwirtz, "Belarus Suspends Pact to Give Up Enriched Uranium," The New York Times, 20 August 2011, www.nytimes.com.
[10] Excerpt from report in English by Belarusian privately-owned news agency Belapan, "Russia plans to fund construction of Belarusian nuclear plant – official," BBC Monitoring Kiev Unit, 9 October 2009, http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk.
[11] "Nuclear Power in Belarus," World Nuclear Association, updated February 2013, world-nuclear.org.
[12] "Nuclear Power in Belarus," World Nuclear Association, updated February 2013, world-nuclear.org; "Government Officials Sign Agreement For Nuclear Power Plant," Business Monitor Online, 24 July 2012, www.businessmonitor.com/bmo.
[13] "Construction works at site of Belarusian N-plant ahead of schedule," ITAR-TASS, 2 April 2013, http://en.itar-tass.com.
[14] “Belarus proceeds to the main stage of the NPP construction,” Belta, 4 November 2014=3, www.atom.belta.by.
[15] "States Parties to this Convention," Organization for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, June 2005, opbw.org.
[16] "Status of Participation in the CWC," Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 21 May 2009, opcw.org.
[17] Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Threats, p. 367, Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment, 2005.
[18] "RT-2PM - SS-25 SICKLE," Global Security.org, www.globalsecurity.org.
[19] Melissa Hanham, "North Korea's Procurement Network Strikes Again: Examining How Chinese Missile Hardware Ended up in Pyongyang," Nuclear Threat Initiative, 31 July 2012, nti.org; Proliferation: Threat and Response, "Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus," United States Department of Defense, January 2001, hosted on fas.org.
[20] "Russia and Belarus launch joint missile defense exercises," Agence France Presse (Paris), 22 August 2001, www.afp.com; Text of report by privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax , "Lavrov says Russia, Belarus cooperate in anti-missile defence sphere," BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 30 October 2012.
[21] Text of report by privately-owned Russian news agency Interfax, "Russia to supply S-300 missile systems to Belarus as agreed – diplomat," BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 29 April 2013; "Russia to deliver more S-300 air defense systems to Belarus," RIA Novosti, 20 April 2011, www.en.ria.ru. “Four more S-300 air defense missile systems for Belarus,” Belta, 4 January 2014, news.belta.by.
[22] "Arms Trade: Belarus plans to buy S-400 missile systems from Russia in 2013-2015," Russia & CIS Defense Industry Weekly, 23 September 2011. Date accessed: 2013/03/04; "Belarusian army receives second battery of Russian-made missile systems," BBC Monitoring Kiev Unit Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 10 January 2013, www.bbc.co.uk.
[23] "Missile Technology Control Regime Plenary Meeting," U.S. Department of State, April 2011, state.gov.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Belarus

  • Suspended an agreement to return 170 kg of HEU to Russia
  • Currently seeking to build its first nuclear power plant since the 1986 Chernobyl accident
  • Submitted a formal request to Russia in 2009 for the purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries