Russia wants to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus. What's next?

Answers to all the questions you may have after Vladimir Putin's statement / Collage by Ulad Rubanau, Euroradio
Answers to all the questions you may have after Vladimir Putin's statement / Collage by Ulad Rubanau, Euroradio

Did Belarus become a nuclear power? No. Would Russia violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty by moving its warheads to Belarus? Again, no.

Euroradio collected the most important questions you might have after Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement about plans to transfer tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. We put them to Pavel Slyunkin, an analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former employee of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

"Everything we are going to discuss is a very hypothetical scenario. Because all our assumptions are based on Vladimir Putin's words that he plans to transfer nuclear weapons to Belarus," Slyunkin emphasizes. "And this is not a man who is serious about his words. What he is saying now may be just a rhetorical device and an attempt to blackmail Western partners".  

The propaganda says that we are now a "nuclear power". Is this true?

"Vladimir Putin's declaration of intent alone does not make us a nuclear power. Even if he transfered his own weapons on the territory of Belarus, but he had full control over them, it wouldn't make Belarus a nuclear power either".

Россия хочет передать Беларуси ядерное оружие — и что теперь? Объясняем
"Putin is not a man who is serious about his words" / GETTY IMAGES

Just as American nuclear weapons on the territory of some European countries don't make them nuclear powers.

As for the propaganda, they started calling Belarus a nuclear power even after they decided to build a nuclear power plant here. Even then the same stories were heard. It's funny. Or sad -- you decide.    

Is Russia violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

"There are different legal opinions on this. The Soviet approach says that yes, it is a violation. Proponents of this approach have always criticized the U.S., believing that the transfer of nuclear weapons to other countries, even without transferring control over them, is contrary to the spirit of the treaty.

Russia has never removed its nuclear weapons from its own territory. But now they have decided to do what the U.S. is doing. If we say that this is a violation, then we have to admit that the US has also violated the treaty.

There is no consensus here. I would say that most countries don't see such actions as a violation of the treaty.

But there are lawyers who argue the opposite.

What has to happen for Belarus to really become a "nuclear power"?

"It has to have its own nuclear weapons. There are two ways. The first is to develop its own nuclear weapons, like Iran, for example, which was sanctioned for doing so. Belarus is not going down that road, at least not at the moment.

The second way is to receive the nuclear weapons from somebody. Legally or illegally. This would violate the obligations of both Russia and Belarus under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. So far, they haven't withdrawn from this treaty, and even at the public level they claim that this is unacceptable.

Recently, Xi Jinping visited Moscow, where Russia and China signed a joint declaration. It says, among other things, that they call on third countries not to place their nuclear weapons outside their borders. And they call on those who have already done so to withdraw their nuclear weapons. This is clearly a reference to the United States, which also keeps its nuclear weapons outside its territory.

Россия хочет передать Беларуси ядерное оружие — и что теперь? Объясняем
Putin and Xi Jinping meeting in Moscow / ALEKSEY MAYSHEV/TASS

By the way, look, it's been a week since this statement was made, and Vladimir Putin is already contradicting his own words.  

What if Putin were to give Lukashenka control of nuclear weapons?

He won't. I don't see any way in which Vladimir Putin would give up his main weapon, the main asset of the Russian regime.

If they didn't have nuclear weapons, I think the conflict in Ukraine would have developed much faster -- and not in Russia's favor. The reaction of the Western countries would have been much bolder and stronger.

It is very difficult to imagine that Putin would give some of these weapons to Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Why should he share his, something so important, with someone else, increasing his weight? It is not in Russia's interest. It is much more interesting for it to keep this control.    

Does Lukashenka even need it?

"I don't know. But if Lukashenka really didn't want this weapon, he wouldn't be talking about it all the time. And he has publicly asked Vladimir Putin for it at least several times.

Yes, he probably wanted to scare the Western countries, to blackmail them, so that they, realizing that things could get even worse, would decide to start a dialogue with him now. This is a fairly standard tactic of Aliaksandr Lukashenka - he has been doing this for decades in the Western vector.

Россия хочет передать Беларуси ядерное оружие — и что теперь? Объясняем
Vladimir Putin and Aliaksandr Lukashenka /

His personal interests may now very much contradict the interests of society. Of course, if you deploy nuclear weapons in your territory and you don't control them, your country becomes one of the targets of a possible strike, nuclear or not. It is an important strategic target that will be retaliated against.

Moreover, if the weapons are brought in, they will be brought in with the specialists. That is, Russian officers and soldiers. They will guard and work on the infrastructure of these nuclear weapons, and this will increase the number of Russian military personnel.

If you don't control this facility, it means that your partner can use it without even consulting you. Like in the exercise when Russian troops were allowed to enter the territory of Belarus.

I don't know for sure whether Aliaksandr Lukashenka knew about Russia's plans to attack Ukraine. But imagine the situation: he was not warned. And what is he going to do with the Russian troops? They've already gone in, attacked Ukraine - and they're not asking him anything. It could be the same with nuclear weapons.

I can't say whether Aliaksandr Lukashenka is interested in handing them over to him now. Is it a forced agreement, because he stayed in power only thanks to Putin? Or has he really decided to play the Cold War this way?

It is quite possible that he sees this situation as a "war for everything" and an existential threat to himself. And he may think that having nuclear weapons in the country makes it less likely that the Ukrainians, "Kalinouski regiments," or anyone else will try to liberate Belarus from his regime.  

But why did Putin decide to transfer nuclear weapons to Belarus now?

"Vladimir Putin doesn't have many instruments of pressure left. He tried to scare with "cold winter" -- it did not work. The attempt to blackmail him with world hunger also failed. And occupying Ukraine with conventional weapons hasn't worked either. That leaves nuclear escalation.

Perhaps this is how Putin is trying to influence public opinion in Western countries. It's one thing to send tanks. It is another to be intimidated by nuclear weapons. Here, the public may wonder whether to vote for a candidate who will be less supportive of Ukraine.

When the stakes are this high, the public may question whether it is worth going this far. And it is possible that Putin is trying to intimidate the public with these explosions. He doesn't have much of a choice. So he is using nuclear blackmail.

Obviously, Putin has no good way out of the situation in the near future. Will Russia be able to withstand a Ukrainian counteroffensive? Also unclear. That is why it is easier to try to get those who are helping Ukraine to talk more often about negotiations. And on the diplomatic front, Russia will now have a better chance to negotiate something.

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