“It is another provocative step, which undermines the principles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the architecture of nuclear disarmament and the international security system,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said on Sunday in a lengthy response to the plan announced by the Russian president.
The ministry also appealed to Belarusian society to prevent the “implementation of criminal intentions”, saying the plan hatched by Putin with the support of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, “will have catastrophic consequences for its future”.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled Belarusian opposition leader, said Russia’s planned deployment “grossly contradicts the will of the Belarusian people” and would make the country a potential target for retaliation.
Ukraine urged the UK, China, the US and France, as permanent UN Security Council (UNSC) members, to take “effective actions to counter the nuclear blackmail”. Yet the value of a UNSC meeting is unclear, since Russia, also a permanent member of the council, could veto any resolution or action that’s proposed.
Putin, in remarks broadcast on Saturday, said that Moscow wasn’t handing control of the weapons to Belarus, and as a result claimed that Russia would not be in breach of its non-proliferation obligations. He noted that the US had previously stationed nuclear arms in Europe.
Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Sunday that Belarus hosting Russian atomic weapons “would mean an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security” that could result in further EU sanctions.
Nato called Russia’s nuclear decision “dangerous” and “irresponsible”. Yet it’s unclear if Putin’s announcement truly alters the nuclear threat landscape, coming days after the visit to Russia by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Borrell told reporters last week after Xi’s trip that the Chinese leader made it “very, very clear” to Putin that he shouldn’t deploy nuclear weapons. China’s 12-point plan aimed at stopping hostilities in Ukraine states that “nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought”.
Nuclear arms treaty
Putin announced in February that Russia was suspending participation in the New START nuclear arms treaty with the US, the last accord limiting their strategic stockpiles.
The Kremlin hasn’t publicly declared that any of Russia’s nuclear arsenal is based in other countries since the Soviet Union’s collapse, when Ukraine and Kazakhstan surrendered stockpiles of weapons on their territories. During the Cold War, Nato and the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact group stationed nuclear weapons in Europe.
The Institute for the Study of War said Putin was “attempting to exploit Western fears of nuclear escalation by deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus”.
“Russia has long fielded nuclear-capable weapons able to strike any target that tactical nuclear weapons based in Belarus could hit,” the US-based military analysts said in a report.
US officials haven’t sounded the alarm.
“We’re just going to have to watch and see,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said of Putin on CBS. “We haven’t seen any indication that he’s made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around. We’ve in fact seen no indication that he has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine.”
Despite the rhetoric out of Moscow since the start of the war a year ago, we’ve seen nothing that would cause us to change our own strategic deterrent posture,” Kirby said.
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