BERLIN: Russia will deliver missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Belarus in the coming months, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday as he received Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
"In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions," Putin said in a broadcast on Russian television at the start of his meeting with Lukashenko in Saint Petersburg.
Let's take a closer look at Iksander-M:
What is it?
As per BBC, the Iskander-M is a mobile guided missile system codenamed "SS-26 Stone" by NATO, which replaced the Soviet "Scud."
Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
According to National Interest magazine, Operational Tactical Missile System (OTMS) Iskander is the most dangerous weapon of the Russian Armed Force.
This complex has a very low non-nuclear use barrier, and the long range of missiles and their ability to overcome missile defence can immediately lead to enormous damage to the NATO air forces in the event of Iskander attacks on airfields, ammunition depots and materiel and the like.
The system can also fire ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCMs) - the SSC-7 and the SSC-8, as per Indian Express.
When was it inducted?
As per Indian Express, while Russia inducted the Iskander system in 2006, its development picked pace in the late 1980s after the "Oka" SRBM or the OTR-23 was banned under the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
US-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says that the Iskander missiles are designed to confuse missile defences by flying on a low trajectory and manoeuvring in flight to strike targets within 2 to 5 metres accuracy, as per the report.
Versions of missile
As per Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance, there are two versions of the missile
The latter is solely for export. The Iskander-M was operationalised in 2006 and is currently fielded by the Russian Army. It has a range of 400-500 km and uses both inertial and optical guidance systems to achieve an accuracy of 10-30 m CEP.
It can carry conventional and nuclear warheads up to 700 kg and employs a maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV) and decoys to defeat theater missile defence systems.
Conventional warheads that can be equipped by the Iskander include cluster warheads, fuel-air explosives, bunker-busters, and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads. The missile was first combat-tested in 2008 during the Russo-Georgian War, when several conventionally-equipped Iskander-Ms were used by the Russian Army to strike targets in Gori, Georgia.
The Iskander-E variant - purposed for export - has a range of 280 km and a warhead capacity of 480 kg. Like the Iskander-M, this version also has an inertial guidance system that gives it an accuracy of 30-70 m CEP. Reports indicate the Iskander-E has been exported to countries such as Syria.
Putin offers Belarus upgrade
File image of Russian president Vladimir Putin. AP
Putin also offered to upgrade Belarus' warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons, amid soaring tensions with the West over Ukraine.
"Many Su-25 (aircrafts) are in service with the Belarusian military. They could be upgraded in an appropriate way," the Russian leader said.
"This modernisation should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this," he added, after Lukashenko asked him to "adapt" the planes.
"We will agree on how to accomplish this," Putin said.
Putin has several times referred to nuclear weapons since his country launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24, in what the West has seen as a warning to the West not to intervene.
Lukashenko said last month that his country had bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles and S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia.
Meanwhile, G7 leaders on Monday expressed "serious concern" over Russia's plans to the missiles to Belarus.
"We urge Russia to behave responsibly and exercise restraint," the leaders of the world's top industrialised nations said in a statement.
"In this regard we express serious concern after the announcement by Russia that it could transfer missiles with nuclear capabilities to Belarus."