Vladimir Putin (R) with Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko (AFP/File)
Map: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1555 GMT:
Russian officials said three people have suffered shrapnel wounds from a drone attack on Kireyevsk in the Tula region, south of Moscow.
Three residential buildings were damaged.
The officials claimed the attack was by a Ukrainian Tu-141 Strizh UAV.
Russian media are reporting on a powerful explosion near #Tula. Two people were injured.
The publication Baza, citing sources, reports that the cause of the explosion in the Tula region is the fall of a UAV. pic.twitter.com/VjFhlBDP71
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 26, 2023
UPDATE 1428 GMT:
Ukraine has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russian will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
The Ukrainian foreign ministry said:
Ukraine expects effective actions to counteract the Kremlin’s nuclear blackmail from the United Kingdom, China, the United States and France. We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose.
The Ministry added, “Russia once again confirms its chronic inability to be a responsible steward of nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence and prevention of war, not as a tool of threats and intimidation.”
A NATO spokesperson criticized Russia for its “dangerous and irresponsible” nuclear rhetoric.
NATO is vigilant, and we are closely monitoring the situation. We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own.
And EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell tweeted:
#Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation & threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice.
The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 26, 2023
UPDATE 0813 GMT:
Among the latest targets of the Russian authorities, as they try to suppress dissent, is an economics professor at the University of Chicago.
Konstantin Sonin is also the former vice-rector of Russia’s Higher School of Economics. He is accused posting “false information about the Russian miltiary” three times on his Telegram channel from April to July 2022.
Russia’s Investigative Committee said “experts” found “linguistic and psychological indications of arousing hatred and enmity toward Russian military personnel”.
Sonin was a professor at the Higher School of Economics from 2007 to 2022, and a member of the Science Council under the Russian Education from 2013 to 2017. He was fired from the HSE in summer 2022 and then moved to the US.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Diverting from his struggling invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has said that Russia will place tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus.
Putin declared on State TV on Saturday:
We are starting to build a storage facility for nuclear weapons. We are not transferring our tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, but we will deploy them and train the military, like the United States in Europe.
It would be the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia has positioned its nuclear weapons outside its territory.
As the pretext for the move Putin cited the UK announcement about the transfer of shells with depleted uranium — effective in attacks on tanks and other armored vehicles — to Ukraine, as this is “one way or another connected with nuclear technology”. He falsely said that the shells have “radiation dust” which may sicken Ukrainian citizens and damage the environment.
A PR Move With Little Effect
Putin’s declaration seized headlines, but has little actual effect.
On November 30 — almost three months before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko offered to host Russia nuclear weapons on his territory. Minsk removed the constitutional clause enshrining Belarus’ neutral status in a referendum in February 2022.
The Institute for the Study of War notes, “Russia has long fielded nuclear-capable weapons able to strike any target that tactical nuclear weapons based in Belarus could hit.”
Putin also blustered that Russia will commission 1,600 tanks in a year, so its fore will be three times larger than Ukraine’s, and that the “West” cannot match Moscow’s increase in production of weapons and ammunition.
The US Defense Department said in a statement:
We have seen reports of Russia’s announcement and will continue to monitor this situation.
We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance.
The Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, tweeted:
putin’s statement about placing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus – a step towards internal destabilization of the country – maximizes the level of negative perception and public rejection of russia and putin in Belarusian society. The kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage.
— Oleksiy Danilov (@OleksiyDanilov) March 26, 2023
An Invasion in Trouble?
Putin has raised the threat of Russian nuclear weapons throughout the invasion, hoping to deter international support for Ukraine’s resistance. His latest attempts comes as Moscow’s forces founder in their last-gasp offensive in eastern Ukraine, notably the 10-month assault on the city of Bakhmut.
The commander-in-chief of the Ukraine military, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi said on Saturday, “Thanks to the titanic efforts of the Defense Forces, the situation [in Bakhmut] has been stabilized”.
His assessment was supported by UK military intelligence has repeated its analysis — in line with assessments by Ukraine and US specialists — that Russia’s assault has “largely stalled” due to the “extreme attrition of the Russian force”. They said the in-fighting between Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner Group mercenaries, and Russian military and political leaders had contributed to the impending failure.