Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that constructing a nuclear weapons storage facility on Belarusian territory will be completed by 1 July. Belarusian propagandists immediately set to work, claiming that if Belarus becomes a nuclear state, “Warsaw will melt and Vilnius will sink” Agnė Černiauskaitė writes in lrytas.lt.
While some politicians and experts reassure us that there is nothing to fear, as the Kremlin has started using nuclear threats as soon as it smells failure in Ukraine and is also deployed in the Kaliningrad region, others warn that the increase in the number of tactical nuclear weapons carriers has the potential to create additional tensions in the region.
“Both Poland and Lithuania face the risk of a tactical nuclear weapon (not only strategic but also tactical) appearing right on our border. And, hypothetically, it could be used in the event of an armed conflict with NATO,” warfare expert Egidijus Papečkys pointed out.
Kremlin leader Putin said at the weekend that Russia intends to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory. An agreement was signed with Belarusian authoritarian Aliaksandr Lukashenko to this effect. This is said to be in response to the UK’s plans to provide Ukraine with depleted uranium munitions.
The US has reacted calmly to such plans, recalling that this agreement was discussed last year and that there is no indication that the Kremlin actually intends to use its nuclear arsenal.
Arvydas Anušauskas, the Lithuanian Minister of National Defence, also sought to reassure the population by pointing out that NATO’s defence of the country against the threat of nuclear weapons is guaranteed regardless of whether they are deployed to the West of our borders (in the Kaliningrad region), to the east (in Belarus) or the north (in Leningrad region).
“Russia is taking new steps in an attempt to make some politicians in the West dissatisfied with support for Ukraine or to intimidate the countries that support Ukraine. This includes Putin’s announcement of deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus by July this year.
Since it is practically impossible to prepare a site for deployment in three months, this means that he will use the infrastructure already available in Belarus, which was agreed upon a year ago. The deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus only shows the fears that Putin has been whipping up since the war against Ukraine about the build-up of NATO forces on the eastern flank.
It is not worth being distracted by “what will happen now?” the Minister of National Defence said.
However, the propagandists of Belarus, which is about to become a nuclear state, immediately rushed to threaten Warsaw and Vilnius. Propagandist Grigory Azarionok said Lithuania and Poland should prepare for a nuclear strike from Belarusian territory.
“Belarus is a nuclear state. A state that has the capability to respond with tactical nuclear weapons in the event of an attack on its territory. Warsaw will melt, and Vilnius will sink. And we will watch the dim sunset and the poisonous mushroom rising over the Polish marshes. Stop talking, or we will irradiate you”, said the propagandist.
For its part, Ukraine is calling for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council over Putin’s plans.
The message has its purpose
Former army commander Arvydas Pocius is convinced that deploying nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory does not change the security situation in our region. According to him, the purpose of Russia’s manoeuvre is not so much military as informational, to frighten the West.
“I immediately want to say a popular saying: just don’t scare us. They are scaring us and frightening us. They are hoping that they will be scared, that there will be no sanctions and no pressure. They are bullies. The bullies of the world. Both Putin and Lukashenko.
This message is more for NATO, for the Western world, so that the countries that do not know the Russian mentality would be frightened”, A. Pocius told lrytas.lt.
According to him, tactical nuclear weapons can fly at a distance of 300-500 km, so it makes no difference whether they are deployed in the Kaliningrad region near Lithuania or in neighbouring Belarus.
“Of course, the threat remains. It has been there all along. I would say that since the period of our independence, we knew that Russia would always threaten us and consistently demonstrate its power. That is what they are doing.
But in the context of the war in Ukraine, it is not Lithuania that they are frightening, but the whole of NATO and the Western world”, the former army chief noted.
Pocius agreed that Putin is resorting to the nuclear stake because he sees failures on the frontline. The politician would now expect a strong reaction from the West.
“President Biden has told Putin not to try to use tactical nuclear weapons because there will be a backlash. And that’s it. They are well aware of what that means. If they try to use it, the spoken word will become flesh. There will be a response”, he assured.
Calls for seriousness
Military expert E.Papečkys urges to take Russia’s plans seriously. He points out that the expansion of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states, in any case, adds more confusion to the world security map.
“Any proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries, to regions where they have not existed, is a threat. Nuclear weapons must be controlled, and the countries that have them have signed many agreements on how to control each other in order to avoid a major catastrophe. This is a malicious move aimed at increasing tensions and causing anxiety in Western countries.
It does not directly increase the threat of nuclear war. Still, it will certainly require specific measures to be taken, and NATO has procedures in place to deal with such a situation,” Papečkys commented on the situation to lrytas.lt.
He stressed that the West will have to react, and Lithuania can also benefit from this by asking for additional security guarantees on NATO’s eastern flank.
The expert also explained that whether nuclear weapons are deployed in Kaliningrad or Belarus makes a difference because more countries can be reached from Belarusian territory. The number of tactical nuclear weapon carriers is increasing. This also affects Lithuania’s security.
“Belarusian aviation and missiles will already be able to carry tactical nuclear weapons when they become available. We are talking about tactical weapons, so perhaps Belarusian artillery will be able to use tactical nuclear projectiles. The number of nuclear weapon carriers is increasing. In Kaliningrad, it is limited. The circle is widening considerably.
Also, from Belarus, nuclear weapons can reach targets further away than from Russian territory,” Papečkys said.
The military expert is also convinced that Putin is again pulling nuclear threats out of his pocket because he has once again failed to achieve his goals on the battlefield.
“Russia is not achieving victory even at Bakhmut, where all forces are deployed. If a town is captured and a small tactical achievement is made, Russia is incapable of fighting at the moment. Ukraine’s enormous military and financial support from the West prevents Russia from achieving victories on the front.
Ukrainian determination and Western weapons are something that Russia is incapable of dealing with. The Kremlin now realises that they are losing the current phase.
Nuclear blackmail is a means of political pressure because of the failures on the frontline”, the interlocutor stated.
Calls for a response
Laurynas Kasčiūnas, chairman of the National Security and Defence Committee (NSDC) of the Seimas, pointed out that dictator countries must receive a strong response from the West.
“Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus must be met with a serious and united response from NATO and the European Union. This is a desperate move by the Kremlin, but it is part of nuclear blackmail, and to say that it makes no difference to the region’s security would be foolhardy and irresponsible.
There is only one response to this: a significant increase in military capabilities in Lithuania and the Baltic States. There are also sanctions, but sanctions alone are not enough in this case.
Russia’s hostile move comes on the eve of the NATO summit in Vilnius, and it is also clear who should give a united response,” Kasčiūnas wrote on Facebook.
According to the politician, Russia understands only force and concessions as an invitation to aggression.
“The Belarusian regime must realise that it is finally burying any autonomy it may have and is once again spitting in the eyes of its citizens, in violation of the country’s Constitution, its international obligations to be a nuclear-weapon-free state, and the Belarusian people’s strictly anti-nuclear beliefs. Will the Belarusians remain silent?
Russia has also spat on the joint statement by the two leaders and the People’s Republic of China on not deploying nuclear weapons abroad. The Kremlin is also humiliating its closest ally.
Lithuania will not be blackmailed and will only strengthen its defence capabilities,” he said.