The Ukrainian government has called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address what it calls Russia’s “nuclear blackmail.” The call came after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed plans to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus, a move that has been condemned by Ukraine.
According to Ukrainian officials, Russia has taken Belarus as a nuclear hostage. Putin, on the other hand, has argued that the move is in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. He cited the U.K.’s recent decision to provide armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine as an example.
Putin stated that Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus was following the lead of the United States, which has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. He noted that Russia was doing what the U.S. had been doing for decades, stationing the weapons in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms, and training their crews.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning Russia’s move and demanding action from the U.N. Security Council. The statement called on the U.K., China, France, and the U.S., as permanent members of the Security Council, to take effective action to counter Russia’s nuclear threats. The Ministry added that the world must be united against anyone who endangers the future of human civilization.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, tweeted that Putin’s announcement was “a step towards internal destabilization” of Belarus, which would maximize “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society.
Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and low yield compared to much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, with construction of storage facilities for them to be completed by July 1, Putin said.
The move would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing the weapons closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there. However, the U.S. said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement and has not seen any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon, according to National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
Meanwhile, Germany’s foreign ministry has called Putin’s announcement a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation.” The ministry noted that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”
The situation between Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine remains tense, with no clear solution in sight. The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus would only escalate the conflict further, and the international community must work to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.