Putin’s Threats a Sign of Desperation as Conflict Descends into Quagmire

How long does Russian President Vladimir Putin intend to continue his dangerous and despicable nuclear threats? The president must immediately cease his tactics of trampling on the principles of nonuse and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

Putin has announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, an ally of Russia. Missiles and aircraft capable of carrying these weapons have already been deployed in the neighboring country, with storage facilities for nuclear warheads to be built by July 1, the president said.

Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for local use on the battlefield. Russia itself possesses a large number of such weapons, and deploying them in geographically close Belarus would not make much difference in terms of military effectiveness.

Even so, Putin has raised the level of intimidation by announcing plans to deploy nuclear weapons outside his country, an apparent sign that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reached an impasse as progress has not been made as he expected.

Western countries have so far stepped up their military support for Ukraine, without holding back in the face of Putin’s hints at using nuclear weapons. It is hoped that they will calmly deal with his latest threats and extend support to Ukraine for its massive counteroffensives.

Putin said his latest decision has been made as a countermeasure to Britain’s announcement that it would ship depleted uranium rounds to Ukraine. His reasoning is nothing but absurd.

Although depleted uranium rounds are powerful enough to penetrate tanks, they are not classified as nuclear weapons under international standards and are possessed by militaries not just in Russia but also in many other countries. Western nations should not be manipulated by Putin’s propaganda efforts to prevent them from providing further arms to Ukraine.

The Belarusian Constitution previously stipulated a policy of not possessing nuclear weapons as a neutral country. However, this provision was removed last year at the initiative of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus would inevitably be added to the list of targets by the West if Russia uses the neighbor as a base for a nuclear attack.

Lukashenko has allowed his country to become a vassal state for Russia so as to maintain his own power with the backing of the bigger neighbor. Simply stated, he has been putting the Belarusian people at risk in exchange for his position as president.

The international community needs to apply more pressure on Russia and Belarus in order to protect the nuclear nonproliferation framework.

China’s responsibility has also come under scrutiny. President Xi Jinping has emphasized his stance of opposing the use of nuclear weapons, or the threat of their use. A joint statement following his recent summit with Putin also stated that all nuclear powers “must not deploy nuclear weapons outside their territories.” However, Putin’s latest announcement means that Xi has been betrayed by the Russian president.

It is in Putin’s nature to try to persist in his self-centered argument as he breaks international rules and promises made with other countries. Xi should rethink his cooperative relationship with his Russian counterpart.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 31, 2023)