Russia Sends Nuclear-Capable Bombers on Patrol Over Belarus
MOSCOW — A pair of nuclear-capable Russian long-range bombers patrolled the skies over Belarus on a mission Saturday intended to underline close defense ties between the two allies amid tensions with the West.
The Russian Defense Ministry said two Tu-22M3 flew a four-hour mission to practice “performing joint tasks with the Belarusian air force and air defense.” The bombers were escorted by Belarus’ Su-30 fighter jets, which Russia has supplied to its ally.
Saturday’s Russian bomber patrol marked a third such mission since last month.
It comes amid Western fears about Russia’s troop buildup in Ukraine which has raised fear of an invasion. Moscow has denied plans for such an attack, but urged the West to provide security guarantees that would exclude NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and the deployment of the alliance’s weapons there — demands that are almost certain to be rejected by the U.S. and its allies.
Some Ukrainian officials expressed concern about Russia using the territory of Belarus as a base for an attack on Ukraine.
Moscow strongly supports Belarus in the midst of tension last month as thousands of refugees and migrants, mostly from the Middle East joined hands with the Belarusian border with Poland to cross into Western Europe.
The European Union has accused authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging illegal border crossings as a “hybrid attack” to retaliate against EU sanctions on his government for its crackdown on internal dissent after Lukashenko’s disputed 2020 reelection.
Lukashenko declared last month, amid tensions between the West and Russia that his country was ready to host Russian nukes.
The Belarusian leader wouldn’t elaborate on what kind of weapons Belarus would be willing to accommodate, but noted that the ex-Soviet nation has carefully preserved the necessary military infrastructure dating back to the time of the USSR.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has described Lukashenko’s offer as a “serious warning prompted by reckless Western policy.”