The discussions around the Kremlin’s threats to utilize nuclear weapons in the war against Ukraine were seemingly fading, as for a few months, Russia limited its mentions of intentions to use them. On Saturday, March 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an agreement with Belarus to store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. While Putin justifies the decision by stating that Russia follows the U.S. model of storing nuclear weapons around the world, Russia’s determination to relocate the weapons closer to Europe is concerning.
In the case of the United States, the practice of the remote owning of nuclear weapons has been in place since its authorization by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s. If necessary, the weapons would be sent to the country via fighter aircrafts from every storage location. Putin states that the Russian government, like the American one, will adhere to its “international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
However, the history of the Russian president’s broken promises makes it impossible to trust his words or his allies’ speeches. One of the most recent examples of this is the purported completion of the mobilization in 2022. According to Russian officials, the mobilization of new Russian conscripts was complete, but as recently as March, Russians are still being drafted and sent to the battlefield.
An older example would be the Kremlin’s violation of the Budapest Memorandum in 2014, an international agreement signed 29 years ago. The document was meant to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine and some other former Soviet Union states, namely Belarus and Kazakhstan. In the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine, being the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, agreed to relocate its nuclear weapons to Russia for dismantlement in exchange for respect for its sovereignty. By invading Luhansk and Donetsk regions and occupying Crimea, Russia severely breached the Budapest Memorandum, and has since been continuously violating it with threats to use nuclear weapons in the full-scale war.
While these violations showcase the unreliability of the Kremlin, the situation may be worsened by the fact that it is not clear if the new storage unit to be built in Belarus will be as closely monitored by the United States and international satellites as the existing nuclear stations located on Russian territory are. This lack of observation could make it easier for Russia to launch a nuclear attack on Ukraine.
The agreement between Putin and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was met with contrasting reactions from experts. Some, including Heather Williams, the director of the Project on Nuclear Issues for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, calls the decision a way for Putin to reaffirm his commitment to the war. Others, such as Alex Kokcharov, a risk analyst, doubt that the agreement indicates a possible attack. Regardless of the prospective scenarios, it is evident that Putin is eager to continue aggression, deploying all the possible tools. Therefore, Ukraine requires more support than ever in order to battle Russia’s new moves.