The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has “no reason to doubt” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia has moved a first batch of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, senior DIA officials said on Friday.
Putin said last month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that “the first [Russian] nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus,” adding that they were placed there for “deterrence.”
Russia has about 4,477 deployed and reserve nuclear warheads, including around 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists. It is not clear how much of that arsenal Putin intends to move, and US and Western officials have not publicly confirmed that any weapons have been transferred to Belarus.
But the senior DIA officials told a small group of reporters Friday that analysts have “no reason to doubt” Putin’s claims, and no reason to doubt “that they have had some success” in transferring the weapons.
The officials would not disclose why they believe that. They acknowledged that the weapons are difficult for the US intelligence community to track, even through satellite imagery.
US and Western officials told CNN earlier this month that it did not appear that Belarus had finished upgrading the necessary storage facilities to house tactical nuclear weapons, and that available satellite imagery had not shown any signs of the kind of preparations and security that would be standard at a Russian nuclear facility.
Other sources told CNN, however, that there are various facilities in Belarus, dating back to the Soviet era, that could feasibly house some of the weapons.
Asked last week whether he had seen signs that Russia had moved the weapons, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told CNN that the UK had “seen signs of this progressing” and noted that Putin “doesn’t always lie.” When pressed, however, Wallace also declined to elaborate on the signs he had seen.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller similarly declined to answer questions earlier this month about where the weapons actually are, but he said the US expects Russia to “uphold” its nonproliferation obligations.
“I will say that we continue to actively monitor reports of the Russia-Belarus arrangement to ensure that Russia maintains control of its weapons in the event of any deployment to Belarus and upholds its obligations under the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” he said during a briefing on July 11. “We will be paying close attention to any deviation by Russia.”
Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko said last month that in the face of aggression, he would show “no hesitation” in using the Russian tactical nuclear weapons stationed on Belarusian soil.
But the senior DIA officials said they do not believe Lukashenko would have any control over the arsenal. It would most likely be entirely controlled by Russia, the officials said.
The DIA officials also said they do not believe the movement of the weapons to Belarus would alter the global nuclear landscape or increase the risk of a nuclear incident, because they would be in storage rather than forward deployed, and controlled by Russian forces.
Miller also said the US has “not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture nor any indication Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.”
In his remarks last month, Putin said the rest of the tactical nuclear weapons Russia intends to move to Belarus would be transferred “by the end of the summer or by the end of the year.”
CNN’s Oren Liebermann and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.