- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last Saturday that Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
- Mr. Putin said the announcement was prompted by the U.K.’s decision to supply armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine. Depleted uranium munitions have been described by the United Nations Environment Programme as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal”.
- Belarus’ geo-strategic position, between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and Poland, makes it very important for Russia. It also shares borders with three NATO members — Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
- Historical ties: Belarus was part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991 and has maintained close ties with Russia since then.
- Economic ties: Russia is Belarus’ main trading partner and provides substantial economic support to the country, including discounted oil and gas prices.
- Political ties: Belarus has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, and Russia has provided political support for his regime.
- Military ties: Russia and Belarus have a mutual defense agreement and conduct joint military exercises, including the annual Zapad drills.
- Integration efforts: Russia and Belarus have attempted to deepen their integration through the Union State, a political and economic union that has been in place since 1999 but has largely failed to achieve its goals.
- Tensions: Despite their close ties, Russia and Belarus have had occasional tensions, including disputes over energy prices, border controls, and political alignment.
- Recent developments: In 2020, Belarus faced widespread protests following a disputed presidential election, and Russia provided political and economic support to Lukashenko’s government. Russia also recently announced plans to establish military bases in Belarus, which has raised concerns among some Belarusians and neighboring countries.
Points to ponder:
- The announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is a significant escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war. This move brings nuclear weapons next door to NATO members and is likely to increase tensions in the region.
- Putin’s announcement was prompted by the UK’s decision to supply armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine. Russia claims that the positioning of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus does not violate any international agreements that Moscow has signed because the control over the weapons would remain with Russia.
- Belarus is an important ally of Russia due to its close military and political ties with Russia. It is also one of the few remaining allies of Russia and is predominantly Orthodox like Russia. Belarus is a member of the Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as well as the Eurasian Economic Union.
- Belarus’ geo-strategic position, between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and Poland, makes it very important for Russia. It also shares borders with three NATO members — Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland. Russia sees Belarus as a forward base for power projection and to give it strategic depth.
- In 2014, Belarus refused to acknowledge the annexation of Crimea by Russia and even hosted the Minsk talks. It also resisted pressure from Russia to host a permanent military base. However, all this changed in 2020 when Belarus was rocked by anti-government protests following what is widely seen as rigged Presidential elections. Mr. Lukashenko was isolated by the West while Russia helped him with a $1.5 billion loan, accepting the results of the elections and promising to intervene if required.
- The latest move by the Kremlin is likely to dissuade the West from giving more advanced weapons to Ukraine. But it also allows the West to use this pretext to further escalate the war. The move does not bode well for peace in the region.