Russian Tu-22M3 Nuclear Capable Bombers and Su-35 Fighters Patrol Belarusian Airspace

Following the redeployment of Russian Su-35 heavyweight fighters and S-400 air defence systems from the country’s Far Eastern regions to the territory of neighbouring Belarus, the Russian Air Force on February 17 deployed two Tu-22M3 bombers for patrols over Belarusian airspace. The deployment were part of the Union Resolve 2022 joint Russia-Belarus exercises, and come at a time of both high tensions with NATO and increasing integration of the two countries’ armed forces to counter growing perceived threats from the West. "During the Union Resolve 2022 joint exercise, two Tu-22M3 long-range bombers of Russia’s Aerospace Force carried out a new air patrol in the airspace of the Republic of Belarus," the Russian Defence Ministry reported, with the bombers quickly returning to airfields in Russia itself. The Belarusian Air Force has participated with deployment of newly acquired Su-30SM fighters from Russia which are based on the same airframe design as the Su-35 but are considerably cheaper and less specialised in air to air combat.

Belarusian Su-30s escorted Russian bombers in the country’s territory several times in late 2021, including both the Tu-22M3 and the heavier intercontinental range Tu-160. At the time Belarus, rather than Ukraine, was the focus of NATO's tensions with Russia. With Russian Su-35s now present, however, these superior fighters took responsibility for escort missions. Tu-22M3 bombers were near simultaneously deployed for operations in the Mediterranean from Khmeimim Airbase in Syria, although the proximity of Belarusian airfields to NATO targets means that bombers are unlikely to see forward deployments there as the Su-35s have. The patrol notably came a week after Russia for the first time deployed MiG-31K strike fighters to airbases in the Kaliningrad enclave bordering Poland, which is Russia’s westernmost territory and places all of Europe and much of the Atlantic within engagement range. The Tu-22M3 is compatible with a wide range of standoff weapons capable of threatening targets across Europe without leaving Belarusian airspace, including the new Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic ballistic missile which is near impossible to intercept and can engage targets at Mach 10 speeds. 

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