On Saturday, 25 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced preparations in Belarus to accept the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons.
Although there are not currently any Russian warheads in Belarus, Putin claimed that Russia had given Belarus nuclear-capable missiles and will start training Belarusian personnel to use them next week. He also announced that up to 10 Belarusian aircraft are already prepared to use these weapons and Russia would complete the construction of a storage facility for nuclear warheads in Belarus by July.
In making the announcement, Putin cited the US deployment of nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Türkiye as a model. “We’re basically doing the same thing they’ve been doing for a decade. They have allies in certain countries and they train their carriers, they train their crews. We are going to do the same thing. This is exactly what Alexander Grigoryevich (Lukashenko) has asked for.”.
These announcements follow Belarusian President Lukashenko’s amendment of Belarus’ constitution to remove its nuclear-free clause, and statements by Lukashenko welcoming the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons.
The deployment of nuclear weapons in additional countries, sometimes referred to as “nuclear sharing” complicates decision making and increases the risk of miscalculation, miscommunication and potentially catastrophic accidents. The UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) explicitly forbids hosting nuclear weapons from another country on one’s territory, and the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons to a non-nuclear armed country. When host countries join the TPNW, they have 90 days to remove nuclear weapons from their territory.
Daniel Högsta, ICAN’s acting executive director said “As long as Putin has nuclear weapons, Europe cannot be safe. He has justified this dangerously escalating proposal to move nuclear weapons into Belarus by citing decades of NATO nuclear sharing. As long as countries continue their complicity in considering nuclear weapons as anything other than a global problem this helps give Putin cover to get away with this kind of behaviour.”
Belarusian human rights activist and opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said “Russia’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus directly violates the Constitution of Belarus and grossly contradicts the will of the Belarusian people to assume the non-nuclear state status expressed in the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Belarus of 1990.” She urged “the international community to demand from Russia to stop this threatening deployment”.