DThe stationing of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus announced by the Kremlin has met with clear criticism from the German government. In the Foreign Office in Berlin on Saturday evening there was talk of a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation”. The Ukrainian government reacted demonstratively unimpressed to the announcement from Moscow. Shortly before, President Vladimir Putin had announced an armament program there that was said to be superior to western arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Putin announced on state television that evening that Russia and Belarus – both of which border Ukraine – had agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons have a shorter range compared to ICBMs – which could also hit the USA – but it is still several hundred kilometers. The Kremlin chief pointed out that the United States had also stationed nuclear weapons with allies in Europe. “We’re just doing what they’ve been doing for decades,” Putin said. In the past he had called for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany because they threatened Russia’s security.
The Foreign Office did not want to leave it at that: “President Putin’s comparison to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot serve to justify the step announced by Russia,” said Berlin. In addition, Belarus has made several declarations internationally that it will be free of nuclear weapons. The Belarusian permanent ruler Alexander Lukashenko – often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” – is one of Moscow’s closest allies.
Putin: No violation of nuclear weapons treaty
Putin stressed that Russia’s deal with Belarus does not violate the international treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons would not be left to Belarus either, but only kept there. Weapons training is scheduled to begin on April 3. The shafts for the Iskander missiles, which can be equipped with nuclear warheads, are expected to be completed on July 1st. Russia has recently helped Belarus convert aircraft, ten of which are now equipped to also shoot down tactical nuclear weapons, Putin said.
Anti-nuclear campaign warns of catastrophe
From the point of view of the Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Russian approach could lead to catastrophe. Putin’s plan is an “extremely dangerous escalation,” warned the Nobel Prize-winning organization in Geneva. This increases the likelihood that such weapons will also be used. “In the context of the Ukraine war, the risk of misjudgment or misinterpretation is extremely high.”
The organization recalled that the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (TPNW) prohibits states from allowing foreign nuclear weapons on their territory. The agreement passed in 2017 has so far been signed by 92 countries. However, Russia and Belarus are not among them, nor are states with US nuclear weapons bases – including Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Putin announces 1,600 tanks for war against Ukraine
In his television appearance, Putin also announced that he would expand his own tank production in view of western tank deliveries to Ukraine. “The total number of tanks in the Russian army will exceed Ukrainian’s by three times, even more than three times,” he said. While Ukraine will get 420 to 440 tanks from the west, Russia will build 1,600 new tanks or modernize existing tanks.
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