Nuclear weapons in Belarus: how serious is the threat?

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that tactical nuclear weapons are to be stationed in Belarus, fears that the war against Ukraine may escalate are growing. Putin pointed out that the US has also stationed nuclear weapons in allied countries in Europe. Europe's press speculates on the strategy behind this move.

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BBC News Ukraina (UA) /

A big step towards escalation

The BBC's Ukrainian service is concerned:

“The deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is a big step towards escalating the war in Ukraine. ... Unlike Russia, the US, although it has tactical nuclear weapons in its stockpile, is not involved in a large and bloody war on the European continent and does not use these weapons as an argument in its political confrontation with the Russians. ... Therefore, Putin's words that the reason for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is the transfer of depleted uranium tank shells to Ukraine [as announced by the UK] sound particularly alarming. ... Until recently it was all rhetoric, but now the warheads are being physically transferred.”

NV (UA) /

The Russian air force is scared

Once again Putin is trying to scare the West with the threat of an escalation of the war, writes political scientist Volodymyr Fessenko in NV:

“Putin boasts of his enormous advantage in air power. ... But for some reason the uncrowned tsar of Russia forgot to mention that the Russian air force is afraid to fly into Ukrainian airspace, except in certain frontline areas.... Why is it so afraid? Because it has already lost more than 300 planes and almost 300 helicopters. The Ukrainian air defence system is becoming more and more powerful. So the Russian soldiers have something to fear. Putin is not scaring the Ukrainians with his with his 'horror stories', he is scaring the Western politicians.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Barking dogs don't bite

The West must be prudent in its reaction, Corriere della Sera argues:

“Since the beginning of his clumsy invasion more than 13 months ago, the Russian president has relied on scaring the Western public, which is no longer used to the logic of the Cold War, in a bid to limit the help offered to Kyiv. ... Calm nerves, coordination among allies and level-headed reactions are therefore the only possible response to prevent the Russian strategy of exploiting the spectre of a nuclear holocaust from giving Moscow the victories it cannot achieve with its beleaguered army on the battlefields.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

A cold breeze from the Kremlin once more

For Lidové noviny, the reasons for Putin's move are obvious:

“The small number of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is not of major military importance. After all, Russia already has similar weapons in its Kaliningrad enclave. This is just one more attempt to intimidate Ukraine and, above all, the West, and to escalate the confrontation. In short, it is a return to the behaviour of the worst days of the Cold War. Back then, the Soviet Union, which Putin would like to see restored, not only made nuclear threats but also invaded the states it wanted to control. We Czechs remember this well.” (HR) /

Loss of Crimea could trigger nuclear reaction

Whether this threatening gesture becomes serious will depend on developments in Crimea, warns

“Putin's biggest problem is that the use of nuclear weapons would provoke an equivalent response from the West. ... Therefore, the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used in Europe is quite low. At least right now, with the Russian army still holding its ground to some extent in Ukraine. The danger of the Russians using nuclear weapons will increase significantly if Ukrainian forces advance as far as Crimea. It is therefore not surprising that the West has repeatedly warned Kyiv not to retake Crimea militarily. Sometimes directly, but more often by saying that the Ukrainian army does not have the strength for such an operation.”