On June 25 Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country’s sole military ally in Europe, the neighbouring post-Soviet state of Belarus, would receive Iskadner-M ballistic missile systems within month. Addressing Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, he stated to this effect: “As you and I have agreed upon, you were asking about this, we made a decision. In the coming months, we will supply Belarus with Iskander-M tactical missile systems which, as it is known, can use both ballistic and cruise missiles both in the standard and nuclear modifications.” This follows the announcement by President Lukashenko on May 10 that the country would develop a new ballistic missile system jointly with Russia based on the Iskander, which was expected to be built in Belarus. He also indicated at the time that the Belarusian Military would be equipped with ‘off the shelf’ Iskanders acquired from Russia. Belarus currently relies on the Tochka ballistic missile system from the Soviet era, which has seen extensive use in recent years both by Ukrainian forces against Russia since February and by Syrian forces against Turkish backed Islamist militant groups.
Belarus and Russia have strengthened defence cooperation considerably since relations between Minsk and the Western Bloc deteriorated in late 2020, at a time when Western powers were accused by both post-Soviet states of seeking to overthrow the Belarusian government through economic warfare and support for anti government protests and riots. Belarus’ armed forces generally use far older hardware than that employed by Russian forces, although they have been bolstered in recent years by acquisitions of Su-30SM heavyweight fighters and S-400 air defence systems. As relations with NATO members states worsen, Russia is expected to provide more support to Belarus’ defence which has also included deployments of its own S-400s, Su-35 fighters and a range of other assets to Belarusian soil.
The Iskander will provide Belarusian forces with a means of asymmetrically tackling larger NATO forces, with the system prized for its highly mobility, short launch time, high precision and survivability against attempted interception. Using hypersonic missiles with very high manoeuvrability, it is considered capable of evading existing NATO missile defence systems. Iskander and S-400 acquisitions paired with development of an indigenous Iskander derivative indicates that Belarusian military modernisation is heavily focused on fielding highly mobile asymmetric assets to compensate for the age of its conventional forces. This mirrors the approaches taken by North Korea and Russia which have relied on similar combinations of assets to deter the larger forces of their adversaries. Belarusian officials have also repeatedly indicated that acquisitions of the S-500 missile defence system is under consideration.