Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Russia Has Taken Belarus as a ‘Nuclear Hostage’—Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken Belarus “as a nuclear hostage,” according to the head of Ukraine’s national security council.

Oleksiy Danilov, writing on Twitter Sunday, said Russia was contributing towards “internal destabilization” in the eastern European state. Belarus and its long-time strongman leader, Alexander Lukashenko, have been among the Kremlin’s amazing allies for decades.

On Saturday, Putin said Russia would station nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders Ukraine. The country was used by Russia as a springboard for its full-scale invasion in February last year, and Lukashenko has echoed the Kremlin’s justification for the war.

Putin said placing nuclear weapons in Belarus would not violate non-proliferation agreements, according to state media. A storage facility in Belarus for tactical nuclear weapons will be completed by July 1, the Russian leader said.

“There is nothing unusual about this,” Putin told state television, saying the US “has been doing this for decades.” Moscow has already given Minsk an unspecified number of Iskander missile systems, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, Putin added.

The US has “not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture,” a senior administration official said, adding that there were no “indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.”

But the US will “continue to monitor this situation,” the official added.

The move “maximizes the level of negative perception and public rejection of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society,” Danilov wrote.

Mykhailo Podolyak, who heads up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, said Putin’s statement showed the Russian leader was “afraid of losing” as the war in Ukraine continues.

The announcement communicated “tired information” about nuclear escalation around the conflict, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank.

Yet the risk of escalation to nuclear war “remains extremely low,” the think tank said on Saturday. Putin “is attempting to exploit Western fears” around the use of nuclear weapons, and “repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons without any intention of following through in order to break Western resolve.”

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanovskaya said placing nuclear weapons in Belarus “grossly contradicts the will of the Belarusian people.”

It is an “unacceptable development” that could make Belarus a “potential target for preventive or retaliation strikes,” she wrote on Twitter.

Putin’s announcement also came just days after Moscow and Beijing issued a joint statement on nuclear weapons, saying both countries opposed their deployment abroad.

“All nuclear powers must not deploy their nuclear weapons beyond their national territories, and they must withdraw all nuclear weapons deployed abroad,” the statement read.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry for comment via email.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken Belarus “as a nuclear hostage,” according to the head of Ukraine’s national security council.

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