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Concern about Russian nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus


Russia wants to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Is another escalation imminent? While the US is emphatically reticent, an adviser to the Ukrainian president warns of the possible consequences – especially for Belarus.

After President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he intends to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, there are growing concerns about a possible further escalation. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned on Twitter about the consequences of stationing such weapons for Belarus.

“Putin’s statement is another step towards destabilizing the country,” wrote Oleksiy Danilov, chairman of the National Defense and Security Council. The Kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.

According to Danilov, the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin “increased the level of negative perception and public rejection of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society.”

“Attempted Nuclear Intimidation”

Putin had announced on state television that Russia and Belarus had agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. It is the first time Russia has deployed nuclear weapons outside of its own country since the 1990s. The Kremlin chief pointed out that the United States also has nuclear weapons stationed with allies in Europe. “We’re just doing what they’ve been doing for decades,” Putin said.

The camps in neighboring Ukraine will be completed on July 1. Russia has already stationed ten aircraft in Belarus that are suitable for carrying nuclear weapons. A number of Iskander tactical cruise missiles capable of launching nuclear weapons have also been deployed.

International treaties on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons are not violated because these weapons are not handed over to Belarus, but remain in Russia’s possession, Putin said. Training for the crews of nuclear-capable aircraft will begin as early as April 3rd.

The German government was alarmed. The Foreign Office spoke of a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation”. But Germany will not be deterred by this, it said. According to the Federal Foreign Office, the comparison made by Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and does not serve to justify the step. In addition, Belarus would contradict several declarations in which it had internationally agreed to be a nuclear-weapon-free territory.

USA: Monitoring situation after Putin’s announcement

The United States, on the other hand, reacted more cautiously to Putin’s announcement. “We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear stance, nor any evidence that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson. The impact of Putin’s announcement will be monitored. In addition, the United States remained committed to NATO’s collective defense.

Use of nuclear weapons unlikely according to ISW analysis

The US Institute for War Studies (ISW) also sees no growing danger of nuclear war. The risk of an escalation to a nuclear war remains extremely low, writes the ISW in an analysis. Russia has already been able to reach any point on earth with its nuclear weapons. But Putin is a “risk-averse actor who repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons without intending to do so.”

Putin wants to stir up fears of a nuclear escalation in the West in order to break support for Ukraine, for example in the delivery of heavy weapons. According to the ISW, it is “very unlikely that Russia will use nuclear weapons in Ukraine or anywhere else.” According to the ISW, Putin’s step was already announced before the war in Ukraine. By stationing nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia is above all cementing its influence in the ex-Soviet republic.

Attempt to intimidate NATO

The Federation of American Scientists, which specializes in armaments and security issues, believes that Putin’s announcement is primarily aimed at NATO. “This is part of Putin’s attempt to intimidate NATO,” said expert Hans Kristensen. However, Russia does not derive any military benefit from this step, since it already maintains a comprehensive nuclear arsenal on its own territory.

According to its own statements, NATO itself sees no need for action with regard to its own nuclear weapons. One is vigilant and monitors the situation closely, said a spokeswoman. “We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear lineup that would cause us to adjust our own,” she said. Russia’s nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible.

ICAN warns of a possible escalation

The Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) expressed concern. The Nobel Prize-winning organization in Geneva warned that Russian President Putin’s plan was an “extremely dangerous escalation”. This increases the likelihood that such weapons will be used. “In the context of the Ukraine war, the risk of misjudgment or misinterpretation is extremely high.”

The organization recalled that the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (TPNW) prohibits states from allowing foreign nuclear weapons on their territory. The agreement passed in 2017 has so far been signed by 92 countries. Russia and Belarus are not among them. States with US nuclear weapons bases – Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey – also did not agree.

Russia will station nuclear weapons in Belarus from July 1

Frank Aischmann, MDR, 25.3.2023 8:00 p.m