March 29, 2023

Nukes in Belarus

Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, sending a warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine and escalating a standoff with the West.” Reuters

Both sides argue that Putin’s move is an attempt to distract from his battlefield losses, and note that it will not significantly impact the military situation:

“The intent to station Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus was telegraphed nearly a year and a half ago… During a Putin-Lukashenko meeting in July, this entire plan was announced ​​and covered by the anti-nuke Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Then Putin announced it because he was pissed off about the new NATO Strategic Concept and Lithuania restricting travel to Kaliningrad… Now he’s miffed about something else…

“In October, Russia announced upgrading at least 10 Belarus attack aircraft to nuclear-capable status. However, the Iskander system that Putin claims he will deploy to Belarus was previously announced in June 2022. In fact, in December 2022, Lukashenko announced that nuclear-capable Iskander missiles were received. Russia frequently moves nuclear weapons to firing sites in Belarus and has done so for years, and nuclear missiles or nuclear-capable aircraft in Belarus do nothing to the NATO security picture.”
Streiff, RedState

“As usual with Putin, the world should read the fine print and check the context. The weapons Putin plans to move to Belarus are not strategic nuclear weapons, those giant intercontinental ballistic missiles that, if fired, could end life on earth. Tactical nuclear weapons are smaller, but powerful, and can be used on the battlefield. Putin has been threatening the possibility of nuclear war for the past year, especially when his military operation in Ukraine is faltering…

“That could help to explain the context of Putin’s announcement. He’s a man with a lot of problems right now. Russian forces are bombarding Ukrainian cities from the air, but their ground war is not making much headway. Aside from several new trade agreements with China, Putin didn’t get much out of his summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. If anything, Russia now appears to be China’s junior partner. Then there’s the International Criminal Court and the arrest warrant it has issued for Putin… Putin is scaring the world to distract from his problems.”
Jill Dougherty, CNN

“As ever, Putin is using the full repertoire of the KGB methods he learned in his early career, distorting reality to create narratives that Russians and ‘useful idiots’ in other countries will spread. Sending nukes to Belarus is only a proportionate answer to British plans to give Ukraine shells made of depleted uranium, he suggests. But the depleted uranium cannot cause fission and shells containing it are not nuclear weapons…

“Putin is also trying to conflate his own plans in Belarus with the long-standing US practice of stationing nuclear bombs in Allied nations such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey. But those arsenals — whatever their merits at the time — date to the Cold War. Neither Washington nor any other capital in control of nuclear weapons would dream of placing such warheads closer to Russia in the current state of tension.”
Andreas Kluth, Bloomberg

“Russia maintains a bloated arsenal of medium- and short-range nuclear weapons, thanks to Putin’s violations of agreements to drastically reduce that arsenal reached in the early 1990s between his predecessors and President George H.W. Bush. Putin’s forces do not need additional lodgments in Belarus to threaten all of Ukraine: They can already do so from their bases inside Russia…

“Putin’s ostensible justification, that this announcement is a measured response to an announcement by the U.K. that it is preparing to provide Ukraine with depleted uranium rounds for tank-killing purposes just does not parse. These rounds, whose density allows them to pierce armor more effectively than conventional rounds, were used extensively in the first Gulf War and the Balkans wars of the 1990s…

Putin’s pathetic effort to grasp at nuclear straws is a clear testimony to the fact that Russian offensive operations in Bakhmut and elsewhere are failing to dislodge Ukrainian forces… The Biden administration, and Western leaders in general, would be well-advised to treat it with the seriousness it deserves—by ridiculing and then ignoring it.”
Eric S. Edelman and Franklin C. Miller, The Dispatch

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“Putting another dozen or so on Belarusian soil gives Putin no advantage, nor does it alter the strategic situation in any way. It doesn’t put Russian nukes any closer to Ukraine than many already are…

“Meanwhile, Putin might have simply caused himself a bit of very avoidable harm. Just [last week], at their gaudy Kremlin summit, he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping signed a joint declaration, noting, among other things, ‘All nuclear-weapon states should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad.’ This was meant as a slam against the United States, the only country that does base some of its nukes abroad—about 100 of them…

“It might be a daring move for Putin to tear up one article of his new accord with his ‘dear friend’ to the east, but, more than that, it is a stupid move. The joint statement—and the summit in every dimension—reflected, above all, Moscow’s distinctly junior role in this partnership, and Xi, like his fellow dictator, has no patience for insubordination from lesser, dependent powers.”

Fred Kaplan, Slate

From the Right

“Last November, Xi Jinping suggested that the international community ‘jointly oppose the use of, or threats to use, nuclear weapons.’ This earned Xi undue praise from some in the West on the misguided basis that he was signaling real pressure on Putin to avoid nuclear brinkmanship. Unfortunately, Xi's rhetoric was a political gimmick designed only for the greedy consumption of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (who was visiting Beijing at the time)…  

“Via its bland response to Putin's action, however, Beijing is emphasizing only its unwillingness to pressure Moscow. Instead, China wants to shift the responsibility for solving the conflict to the U.S. Beijing's interest here was underlined when, after the spokeswoman was asked another question about Russia's nuclear moves, she responded in part that ‘we hope that the U.S. will also act responsibly to create the necessary environment and conditions for peace talks between the parties concerned, rather than add fuel to the fire.’ The international community shouldn't buy the lie that China is selling.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

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