Putin nuclear warning: In a major development, Ukraine on Sunday called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council after Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed plans to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus. According to Ukrainian officials, President Putin is blackmailing the world with its nuclear arsenals.
Quoting a Ukrainian official, the news agency AP said “Russia has taken Belarus as a nuclear hostage”. However, Kremlin rejected the claims and said it was making the move in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine.
Notably, the entire row erupted after Putin announced the plan in a television interview that aired on Saturday, saying it was triggered by a UK decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
Putin says he is following US paths
Putin argued that by deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia was following the lead of the United States. He noted that Washington has nuclear weapons based in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” he said.
Ukraine condemned Russia’s move
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement on Sunday and demanded an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. “Ukraine expects effective action to counter the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail by the UK, China, the US and France, including as permanent members of the UN Security Council, which have a special responsibility to prevent threats of aggression using nuclear weapons,” the statement read.
“The world must be united against someone who endangers the future of human civilisation.” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, tweeted on Sunday that Putin’s announcement was “a step towards internal destabilisation” of Belarus that maximised “the level of negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society.
The Kremlin, Danilov added, “took Belarus as a nuclear hostage”.
Belarus played a crucial role in the war
On Saturday, Putin argued that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long asked to have nuclear weapons in his country again to counter NATO. Belarus shares borders with three NATO members — Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — and Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground to send troops into neighbouring Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
Both Lukashenko’s support of the war and Putin’s plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus has been denounced by the Belarusian opposition. Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield and have a short range and a low yield compared with much more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles. Russia plans to maintain control over the ones it sends to Belarus, and construction of storage facilities for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Russia has stored its tactical nuclear weapons at dedicated depots on its territory, and moving part of the arsenal to a storage facility in Belarus would up the ante in the Ukrainian conflict by placing them closer to Russian aircraft and missiles already stationed there.
US will track every movements
The US said it would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement. So far, Washington hasn’t seen “any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
In Germany, the foreign ministry called it a “further attempt at nuclear intimidation”, German news agency dpa reported late Saturday. The ministry went on to say that “the comparison drawn by President Putin to NATO’s nuclear participation is misleading and cannot be used to justify the step announced by Russia.”
(With inputs from AP)
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