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Russia’s Plan to Deploy Nuclear Weapons in Belarus Under Attack by Ukraine

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Ukraine has criticized Russian plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, claiming Moscow has become its hostage.

A senior security adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Sunday that Russian plans would destabilize the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the decision earlier Saturday, warning NATO about its military support for Ukraine and escalating confrontation with the West.

Although the move was not unexpected and Putin said it would not violate promises of non-proliferation, it is one of the clearer nuclear signals to Russia since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago.

Oleksey Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, called it “a step towards internal destabilization of the country,” adding that it increases the level of “negative perception and general rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society.

He wrote on Twitter: “Ramlin (K) took Belarus hostage with nuclear weapons.”

Putin likened his plans to the United States deploying its weapons in Europe and said Russia would not transfer arms control to Belarus.

“We are not handing over (weapons), and the United States is not handing them over to its allies. We are basically doing the same thing they have been doing for a decade,” Putin said.

However, this may be the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia has built such weapons outside the country.

Experts told Reuters the development is significant because Russia has so far been proud that, unlike the United States, it has not deployed nuclear weapons outside its borders.

Another senior Zelensky adviser on Sunday mocked Putin’s plan, saying the Russian leader was “too predictable.”

“When he made a statement about tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he admits he’s afraid of losing and all he can do is fear the tactics,” Mykhailo Podolak wrote on Twitter.

Washington is not concerned

Washington, the world’s other nuclear superpower, played down concerns about Putin’s announcement and the possibility of Moscow using nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

“We have seen no reason to adjust our strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to NATO’s collective defense,” a senior administration official said.

The official noted that Russia and Belarus had been talking about transferring nuclear weapons for some time.

Tactical nukes refer to those used for specific gains on the battlefield rather than those with the potential to wipe out cities. It is unclear how many of these weapons Russia has, given that it is a region still shrouded in Cold War secrecy.

Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Saturday that the risk of escalation to nuclear war “remains very low.”

“The ISW continues to assess that Putin is a risk-averse player who repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons with no intention of following through,” she wrote.

However, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons called Putin’s announcement a very dangerous escalation.

“In the context of the war in Ukraine, the potential for miscalculation or misinterpretation is very high. Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences,” she said on Twitter.

Putin denounces the Western “axis”.

Putin said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long requested the deployment. There was no immediate reaction from Lukashenko.

While the Belarusian Army has not officially fought in Ukraine, Minsk and Moscow enjoy a close military relationship. Minsk allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops to Ukraine last year, and the two countries have stepped up joint military exercises.

On Sunday, Putin also denied that Moscow was forging a military alliance with Beijing, instead asserting that Western powers were building a new “axis” along the lines of the partnership between Germany and Japan during World War Two.

“That is why Western analysts talk … about the West starting to build a new axis similar to the axis established in the 1930s by the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy and militaristic Japan,” Putin said.

This was a retaliation for a theme he used often in his depiction of the Ukraine War — that of Moscow fighting Ukraine in the grip of supposed Nazis, instigated by Western powers threatening Russia.

Ukraine—which was part of the Soviet Union and itself suffered devastation at the hands of Hitler’s forces—dismisses these parallels as false pretexts for waging a war of imperial conquest.

On the battlefield, Ukraine has shown more optimism in recent days about the brutal months-long battle for control of the eastern city of Bakhmut.

Bakhmut is a major Russian target as it attempts to take over the entire Ukrainian industrial region of Donbass. Russian commanders at one point expressed confidence that the city would soon fall, but such claims were receded amid heavy fighting.

The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Forces, General Valery Zaluzhny, said on Saturday that the Ukrainian forces managed to reduce the intensity of the Russian offensive in and around Bakhmut, where the situation is stabilizing.

On Sunday, the General Staff said that Ukrainian forces had repulsed 85 Russian attacks in the past 24 hours in several parts of the Eastern Front, including the Bakhmut region.

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