NATO denounced Russia’s “hazardous” and “reckless” language following Putin’s deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus. NATO is keeping a close eye on the situation and has no plans to alter its own nuclear strategy. The US expressed doubt that Russia intends to use nuclear weapons.
Belarus shares a border with NATO members Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, as well as with Ukraine. Ukraine seeks an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the potential threat posed by Putin’s recent announcement. Putin declared that Moscow would not relinquish control of its arms to Minsk and that Lukashenko had long been discussing the matter with him. Lukashenko is a staunch ally of the Kremlin and a supporter of its invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine claims that the deployment breaches nuclear non-proliferation agreements, which Putin denies, likening it to the US positioning weapons in Europe. However, NATO has disputed Russia’s comparison and called it “misleading.” NATO’s representative stated that the alliance’s members uphold their international obligations.
The military alliance also accused Russia of consistently breaking its own arms control commitments, including the country’s decision to suspend the new START treaty – a deal signed in 2010 which limits the number of US and Russian nuclear warheads and gives each the power to inspect the other’s weapons.
n Sunday, a top security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of making Belarus a “nuclear hostage”.
Oleksiy Danilov wrote on Twitter that Russia’s plans were a “step towards internal destabilization” in Belarus and predicted anti-Russian sentiment in the country would grow.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said Russia’s deployment of nuclear weapons in her country “grossly contradicts the will of the Belarusian people” and would make it a potential target for retaliatory strikes.
But Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s ministry of defense, told the BBC that Ukraine was used to nuclear threats from Russia, adding that the deployment in Belarus would not change the outcome of the war.
“They cannot win this war because it is for them unsustainable, it is unwinnable, [and] they cannot defeat Ukraine because we have been living with the hypothetical threat of a possible nuclear strike from day one of the large-scale invasion,” he said.
Mr Sak said there was nothing new in Russia’s behavior, as it had been stationing military equipment in Belarus since the start of the war in 2022.
Mykhailo Podolyak, another senior adviser to President Zelensky, characterized the move as “scare tactics” and said the Russian leader was “too predictable”.
Analysts at the US think tank Institute for War said the risk of escalation to nuclear war following the announcement remained “extremely low”.
A small number of Iskander tactical missile systems, which can be used to launch nuclear weapons, have already been transferred to Belarus, President Putin said in his address on Saturday.
This will be the first time since the mid-1990s that Moscow will have based nuclear arms outside the country.
The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 meant weapons became based in four newly-independent states – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan – with the transfer of all warheads to Russia completed in 1996.
Russia will start training crews to operate the weapons from next week. The construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be completed by 1 July, President Putin said.
The announcement comes only days after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, during which Russia and China issued a joint statement saying “all nuclear powers must not deploy their nuclear weapons beyond their national territories, and they must withdraw all nuclear weapons deployed abroad”.