Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus: russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly accidentally said about the agreement between Moscow and Minsk on March 25, claiming that it was because of the UK’s intention to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium (and because Oleksandr Lukashenko had long asked for it).
Military experts explain that the reason about British rounds is flimsy: armor-piercing rounds with depleted uranium have nothing to do with weapons with nuclear components. But a tactical nuclear charge may appear in Belarus already this summer, if everything goes according to the Kremlin’s plan. Radio Donbas. Realities (a project of Radio Svoboda) explains why Putin and Lukashenko need it.
Radio Svododa investigates.
What will Russia do?
According to Putin:
• The training of Belarusian crews on Iskander operational-tactical complexes, which can be used as nuclear charge carriers, will begin on April 3. Which is surprising, because according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry, the crew completed their training on February 1;
• a storage facility for nuclear charges will have been built in Belarus by July 1.
Reaction of the West
After Putin’s statement, Ukraine called on UN Security Council members to convene an extraordinary meeting.
NATO considers the Russian nuclear rhetoric dangerous and irresponsible: “We are closely monitoring the situation. We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” a NATO spokesman was quoted as saying by Reuters.
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said that the EU will react to this Kremlin’s move with new sanctions. “Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would be an irresponsible escalation and a threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions," he wrote on Twitter.
The U.S. says it will not change the order of operation of its strategic nuclear forces after the statement. And they see no threat of its use by Russia.
“We have not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defense of the NATO alliance,” said Adrienne Watson, a representative of the US National Security Council.
Germany believes that Putin’s words are misleading and cannot justify the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus. And this country has pledged at the international level to be free from nuclear weapons.
What does Putin want to achieve with this?
Serhii Rakhmanin, a member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence, suggests that the declaration of nuclear weapons is on a par with Russia's withdrawal from the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty or Putin's recent meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping: he does this to raise the stakes in the confrontation with the West. This is a game on nerves.
"Occasionally Putin throws in things that, on the one hand, should distract from the real course of events on the front line (which, unfortunately for him, are not working out in his favor), and on the other – raise the stakes," Rakhmanin said on Radio Donbas.Realii.
Putin has long realized that what the West reacts to most quickly is the mention of nuclear weapons. There is nothing else that could be used to catch their attention.
The Belarusian initiative Bypol (created by former security officials who do not support the regime of Olexandr Lukashenko - ed.) suggests that the idea of deploying weapons in Belarus came from the Kremlin in order to avoid responsibility: so that the response was directed not at Moscow, but at Minsk. However, Serhii Rakhmanin believes that this logic will not work.
"The question will be to the country that used the nuclear weapon rather than to the territory from which it was launched," he says.
And why did Lukashenko ask for nuclear weapons?
The head of Bypol, Oleksandr Azarov, believes that this is because Lukashenko is modeling a possible new attack on Ukraine from his territory.
"He sees the threat that Ukraine will then definitely strike back at the territory of Belarus and destroy the Mozyr plant and other strategic facilities located near the Ukrainian border. So he asked for nuclear weapons to threaten us. But these weapons really will not belong to Belarus," Azarov said on Radio Donbas.Realii.
He explains that even the Operational-Tactical Missile System Iskander has not been put into service with the Belarusian army: it remains Russian.
"If the Russians supply nuclear weapons, they will supply them to themselves (to this complex) rather than to Lukashenko," he says.
Along with this, the Belarusians themselves are wary of everything related to the atomic topic: the country was badly affected by the Chornobyl disaster, so even the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant in 2009 (the Belarusian nuclear power plant was built according to a Russian project and on Russian credit, began to work in 2020 - ed.) caused them to experience extreme anxiety.
"But there is a totalitarian regime in Belarus, and nobody is interested in the opinion of Belarusians, - Azarov concludes. - If someone starts a picket, he will be immediately arrested and will be sentenced to 15 years in prison."
It seems that Putin's statement is Russia's return to nuclear blackmail – to pressure the West. Observers and analysts believe that, given the failures of the Russian army at the front, the goal of this blackmail may be a reduction or even a refusal of partners to provide assistance to Ukraine. But so far, it seems that the West has no intention of heeding these threats –at least in this way.