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Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow struck a deal with neighboring Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, which is a direct response to the UK’s earlier decision to send depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine, and a warning to NATO over its increasing interference in the crisis. Putin said that the deal with the Belarusian counterpart would not violate nuclear nonproliferation agreements. The United States – the world’s other nuclear superpower – has reacted cautiously to Putin’s statement, saying there were no signs Moscow planned to use its nuclear weapons. NATO criticized Russia for its dangerous nuclear rhetoric, while closely monitoring the situation. The decision is believed to be setting a very bad precedent as depleted uranium munitions have been resisted by many countries given its harm not only to soldiers but also to civilians nearby. Effective peace talk mechanism is needed’ as Russia to place nuclear weapons in Belarus. Putin likened his plans to the U.S. stationing its weapons in Europe and said that Russia would not be transferring control to Belarus. But this could be the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia was to base such weapons outside the country. Tactical nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains on a battlefield rather than those with the capacity to wipe out cities. It is unclear how many such weapons Russia has given it is an area still shrouded in Cold War secrecy. The development was significant since Russia had until now been proud that, unlike the United States, it did not deploy nuclear weapons outside its borders. Putin did not specify when the weapons would be transferred to Belarus, which has borders with three NATO members – Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. He said Russia would complete the construction of a storage facility there by July 1. The transfer would expand Russia’s nuclear strike ability along NATO’s eastern border. Although the Kremlin has never publicly confirmed it, the West has long been saying that Russia keeps nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, its Baltic coast exclave between NATO and European Union members Poland and Lithuania. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons called Putin’s announcement an extremely dangerous escalation. It’s expected that this is part of Putin’s game to try to intimidate NATO because there is no military utility from doing this in Belarus as Russia has so many of these weapons and forces inside Russia. In the context of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of miscalculation or misinterpretation is extremely high. Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences. While the Belarusian army has not formally fought in Ukraine, Minsk and Moscow have a close military relationship. Minsk allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine last year and the two nations stepped up joint military training. Russia has stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, it had already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems that can launch nuclear weapons. Indeed, it’s a very significant move, as Russia had always been very proud that it had no nuclear weapons outside its territory. So, now, yes, they are changing that and it’s a big change. The US and other NATO states are delivering large volumes of weapons to Ukraine that pose a threat to Russia. Russia has hundreds of thousands of shells that include depleted uranium though it hasn’t used them yet. While Ukraine’s allies are ramping up the production of arms and munitions, Russia’s defense output is developing very fast and will produce three times more ammunition and tanks than Ukraine’s backers will supply. At a time when statements and actions by all parties are pushing up the risk of nuclear confrontation, an effective mechanism for peace talks must be put in place as soon as possible, rather than a continued arms race and fanning the flames of conflict. Since the Cold War, the US has deployed nuclear weapons in many allied countries in Europe. As the Cold War ended, about 4,000 US tactical nuclear weapons remained on European soil. Although the number has sharply reduced since, an estimated 100 nuclear warheads are stored across Europe on air bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, according to the data from the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in 2021. With this move, Russia hopes to send a message that if the US and West continue to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine conflict or provide weapons of mass destruction, Russia will further counteract.
UN member states should use the UN system in the way it was originally designed to function in the post-war era, to respond collectively and decisively for the peace. The war in Ukraine should be a wake up call to everyone that nuclear dangers are real.
Tensions over potential nuclear confrontation have been growing over the Ukraine crisis as NATO members increase heavy weapon supplies to Ukraine. However, pointed out that the Pentagon’s reaction to Russia’s announcement has remained cautious, which shows that it does not want to irritate Russia, so the risk is not yet unmanageable. Both sides still reflect the sanity of wanting to avoid a nuclear war. For its part, the US hopes to achieve its goal of dragging Russia down in the long run by intervening in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It would also be contrary to its goal to steer the war toward nuclear weapons involvement. For now, the key to avoiding a nuclear war lies in the political rationality of the leaders of both Russia and the US. An effective mechanism to persuade talks and promote peace must be established as soon as possible, urging both sides to implement mechanisms for nuclear arms control. Putin’s announcement comes as tensions grow with the West over the Ukraine war and as some Russian commentators speculate about possible nuclear strikes. As fighting rages in and around Bakhmut, Western nations have raised their military support for Ukraine to the highest level yet, with commitments to send main battle tanks. Can someone expect that the deal with Belarus would not violate nuclear nonproliferation agreements? the United States had stationed nuclear weapons in the territory of its European allies for decades. Russia has already stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons and has transferred a number of Iskander tactical missile systems, which can be used to launch nuclear weapons, and had vast quantities of the weaponry. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called Putin’s announcement an extremely dangerous escalation. In the context of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of miscalculation or misinterpretation is extremely high. Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg slammed Russia for suspending the nuclear weapons treaty, saying it marked the end of Europe’s post-Cold War arms control architecture. Putin did so after Moscow in August suspended New START-mandated US inspections of its military sites. Belarus is closely allied with Russia. Longtime ruler Lukashenko, whose re-election as president in 2020 is not recognized by the West, is militarily, politically, and economically dependent on Moscow.
On one side, Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear warheads in the world, including superiority in tactical nuclear weapons designed for battlefield use. On the other side, Ukraine’s most powerful strategic partner, the United States, also has an extremely large and sophisticated nuclear stockpile. NATO partners France and the UK have their own advanced nuclear capabilities; and NATO-sharing states Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey host US nuclear weapons on their territory. The risk of nuclear use stems from tensions escalating between Russia, the US, and NATO, even as the latter try to resist being drawn directly into the war. Although it is extremely unlikely the US or its NATO allies would set out to conduct a nuclear strike against Russia, it is possible to imagine several scenarios that could lead them to become entangled in the conflict, leading to unintended nuclear escalation. The most serious danger is that of misperception, the risk that action taken by the US or NATO in support of Ukraine is misinterpreted by Russia as a deliberate strategic provocation. This is not a far-fetched scenario given Russia’s nuclear posture, which maintains nuclear forces on high alert, and given the nuclear threats made by President Putin. At the time, Putin made sure to emphasize that Russia has certain advantages in a number of the latest types of nuclear weapons in case anyone was in any doubt. This might sound like hyperbole until you consider that if the international community fails to mount an effective response. A world in which the leaders of nuclear-armed states can pursue expansionist campaigns unconstrained by international law, and without fear of reprisal. Nuclear capabilities and nuclear intentions can be hard to decipher. It’s time to demand the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and the creation of stable security arrangements based on a properly functioning UN system that upholds international law. The escalation can also take on a momentum of its own, and because the margins are so thin – leaders have only a few minutes to make decisions if they believe their countries are under attack – the US and its allies will have to tread extremely carefully in their response. It is not immediately clear what the practical implications of Putin’s announcement will be. It could mean that bombs are loaded on to bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles on mobile launchers are dispersed, or more nuclear-armed submarines are put out to sea. Or it could be more of an administrative process. The challenge for the Nato allies now is maintaining the support Ukraine needs for its survival while making clear Putin has a way out of the crisis, rather than climbing up the escalation ladder to the point where it takes on a logic of its own. Political leaders must come together in support of collective efforts and international law. Economic sanctions are not useful enough. UN member states should use the UN system in the way it was originally designed to function in the post-war era, to respond collectively and decisively for peace. The war in Ukraine should be a wake-up call to everyone that nuclear dangers are real. This raises urgent questions about how to support Ukraine and de-escalate the conflict. The war needs to be stopped, for the sake of the Ukrainian people, for the sake of humanity, and for the sake of life on earth.