Russian President Vladimir Putin made an ominous announcement on Saturday, March 25th, stating that he intends to place tactical nuclear weapons in a storage facility in neighboring Belarus.
During a broadcast via state network Russia 1, Putin declared that the construction of the said facility would be completed by early July of this year. Even before this, the Russian government moved a short-range missile system into its ally’s territory.
This Iskander system may be used with both nuclear and conventional warheads, prompting concerns from other nations.
Located west of Russia along the long northern border of Ukraine, Belarus remains one of Russia’s strongest allies.
It will be recalled that the initial invasion of Ukraine in February last year was launched in partnership with the Belarusian government, allowing Russian troops to march into the country from the north.
Putin’s announcement has raised hackles among neighboring nations who fear Belarus will again be the kick-off point for more destructive offensives into Ukraine. Many have also expressed concerns that Belarus’ own armed forces could augment Russian forces in the ongoing conflict.
Putin’s announcement reinforces earlier statements he made at the end of last year regarding Russia’s training of Belarusian pilots to fly warhead-carrying jets.
The statements were made during a joint press conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who added that his country’s armed forces had brought Russia’s S-400 air defense system to a combat-ready state. The addition of the Iskander system will make the S-400 even more formidable.
This is the first time in nearly three decades that Belarus will be harboring nuclear weapons within its jurisdiction.
When the country gained its independence following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Belarusian government at the time returned all nuclear weapons of mass destruction back to Russia.
Is Putin Afraid of Losing?
Some political analysts, however, see this announcement as a sign that Putin is worried that the invasion of Ukraine is falling apart.
For Ukrainians, Putin’s increasingly vicious statements and warnings that the conflict could escalate into a full nuclear Armageddon signify his decreasing confidence in armed action.
For his part, Ukranian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak remarked that Putin’s potential violation of the non-nuclear proliferation treaty is solid proof that he has always been pro-nuke. Podolyak warned that there were no guarantees that Putin would not deploy the weapons he sent to Belarus and that all nations should remain vigilant.