March 4. 2024. 10:09

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EU, NATO blast Russia’s ‘dangerous’ decision to station nukes in Belarus

EU and NATO on Sunday (26 March) condemned Russia’s intentions to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, calling on Minsk to rethink the move amid fears of the conflict’s escalation.

Brussels was ready to impose new sanctions on Belarus if Minsk were to host Russian nuclear weapons, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said on Sunday (26 March).

“Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice,” he tweeted.

“The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions,” Borrell said as the bloc is currently preparing another batch of restrictive measures against Minsk.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced in an interview broadcast on Saturday his country would station tactical nuclear arms in Belarus, a step that, according to him, was “nothing unusual”.

Putin said the deployment was similar to moves from the United States, which stores such weapons in NATO bases across Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, an analogy western allies called “misleading”.

In the announcement, Putin also added a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons would be ready in Belarus by July.

Russia has stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, Putin said, adding that it had already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems that can launch nuclear weapons.

With fears of a nuclear war rising since the invasion, experts believe that any Russian strike would likely involve small-size battlefield weapons, called “tactical” as opposed to “strategic” high-powered, long-range nuclear weapons.

Belarus borders three NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

On Sunday, NATO criticised Russia for its “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric and called Moscow’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing “misleading”.

“NATO is vigilant, and we are closely monitoring the situation. We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said.

“NATO allies act with full respect for their international commitments. Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments, most recently suspending its participation in the New START Treaty,” she added.

‘Taken hostage’

Last February, Russia used Belarus as a staging ground to send troops into Ukraine for Putin’s invasion of the country.

Since then, Moscow and Minsk have maintained close military ties as the Kremlin continues its war on Ukraine.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, charged that Russia “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage” in a tweet on Sunday.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry accused Russia of breaching its obligations and undermining the “nuclear disarmament architecture and the international security system in general”.

“Ukraine expects effective actions to counteract the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail from the United Kingdom, China, the United States and France. (…) We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose,” it said in a statement.

It called on “all members of the international community to convey to the criminal Putin regime the categorical unacceptability of its latest nuclear provocations.”

Nuclear risk

Hawkish Russian politicians and commentators have long speculated about potential nuclear strikes against Western countries, saying Russia has the right to defend itself with nuclear weapons if it is pushed beyond its limits.

It is unclear how many nuclear weapons Russia has. Although the Kremlin has never publicly confirmed it, the West has long been saying that Moscow keeps nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, its Baltic coast exclave between NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania.

From Putin’s comments on Sunday, it is also unclear where the weapons would be stationed in Belarus. But military experts agree the transfer would expand Russia’s nuclear strike ability along NATO’s eastern border.

Earlier on Friday (24 March), Borrell told reporters that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent trip to Moscow had reduced the chance that Putin will use nuclear weapons.

“One important thing is this visit reduces the risk of nuclear war, and they [the Chinese] have made it very, very clear,” Borrell said.

“Xi wants to minimise the risk of being associated with the Russian military intervention,” he added. “They are not engaged militarily, and there is no sign that they want to engage militarily.”

China has not crossed any red lines for us yet, EU’s top diplomat says

China has not crossed any red lines in terms of supplying arms to Russia and wants to “minimise the risk of being associated with Russian military activities”, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told several European media, including EURACTIV.