Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko (AP)
In the last week, President Vladimir Putin deepened his pressure tactic on the West, ordering his military commanders to prepare the movement of nuclear weapons to the territory of Belarus.
The Russian leader’s new strategy to transfer weapons with nuclear warheads to the territory of his ally Lukashenko was welcomed by Washington as Putin’s response to Kiev’s plans to launch an upcoming counteroffensive against Moscow troops and is intended to raise fears of an escalation to As US and NATO allies consider bolstering Ukraine’s weapons capabilities with modern systems including tanks and fighter jets.
However, it is not clear that the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus will significantly change the course of the war, although it exposes Putin’s strategy to maintain the nuclear threat as a more serious element in the vision of Western leaders.
US and European military analysts have called Putin’s nuclear posture his protective tactic in Ukraine. At the same time, NATO officials maintain that the position of the Russian leader is increasing the level of uncertainty even among Russian citizens who fear a reaction from the West and perceive themselves as the target of any counter-offensive against the Kremlin.
The majority position of Western European officials and military cadres holds that Putin’s nuclear option is nothing more than a way for the Russian leader to improve his position of power to balance his frustrations on the battlefield. The international community knows that Russia has the capacity to carry out nuclear weapons attacks on any city in Europe. The fact that they are now displacing some tactical small arms does not change the scenario. With this, Russia intends to press to generate a favorable map of the conflict that facilitates and installs a perception in which Ukraine and those who support it assess that the effort to fight does not justify the price of doing so. Hence, it is imperative for Ukraine that the West help resist its military forces.
The Pentagon believes that Putin’s strategy of repeated threats to use a nuclear weapon as an instrument of domination and imposition of military and political force will lose momentum if his forces successfully reach the military objectives set by Moscow. from the first day of the invasion of Ukraine.
The Pentagon believes that Putin’s strategy of repeated threats to use a nuclear weapon as an instrument of domination and imposition of military and political force will lose momentum if his forces successfully reach the military objectives set by Moscow. from the first day of the invasion of Ukraine. (AP)
Putin’s statements ratifying during the week that Moscow will move to Belarus and maintain a supply of short-range nuclear weapons there is more of the same in Putin’s strategy by trying to disguise his weakness and military setbacks on the ground.
Tactical nuclear weapons have a shorter range and lower yield than nuclear warheads mounted on ballistic missiles. However, when these types of weapons detonate they can release forty times more kilotons than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, those reached a yield of 13 kilotons, with which the destruction of vast areas would be assured.
In this direction, NATO intelligence maintains that if Putin plans to use tactical nuclear-capable weapons, he does not need to move them to Belarus since these types of weapons can be operated by air through large bombers, be assembled in short-range missiles or even be shot by adapted artillery pieces.
Through the intelligence information available to the Pentagon, Washington believes that Russia has an arsenal of tactical projectiles of close to 1,900 weapons, while the United States has some 200 nuclear warheads capable of operation and immediate response in Europe. The number is enough for a devastating response that would bring all of Russia to the brink of destruction in the unlikely event that Putin dared to use just one of his small tactical nukes. Consequently, the report from NATO’s military intelligence office for rapid response last Tuesday becomes relevant, in which Putin’s decision to transfer tactical weapons to Belarus in response to the deployment of B61-nuclear gravity bombs is described. that Washington stores in Germany, Italy, Belgium and Turkey.
The only voice giving more weight to Putin’s message on the issue was that of Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, who declared that Putin might decide to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon in the face of a catastrophic defeat scenario in Ukraine. However, for Kimball the risk of a nuclear attack is minimal at the moment -since if it happened- Russia would become a complete international pariah, which would happen even with those countries that have positioned themselves as neutral during the first year of the war.
Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, stated that Putin could decide to deploy a tactical nuclear weapon in the face of a catastrophic defeat scenario in Ukraine. (Reuters)
This week’s Russian threat was revealed through a message from the Kremlin leader on Russian television and it is not new, last year Putin had placed his nuclear capability on high alert and said his warnings were not an empty threat. Rather, it was configuring a warning to the world that it would not allow Russia’s integrity and security to be endangered, and that if that happened, all defensive capabilities could be used. Washington, Brussels and NATO branded it reckless and dangerous rhetoric for Russia itself and for humanity. However, this week a NATO spokesman told the US press that the transfer of tactical weapons to Belarus does not force the alliance to change its position in the region as Putin’s conduct on arms transfers is believed to tactics comes at a time when the UK is supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium munitions. Although depleted uranium is not capable of being considered a nuclear weapon.
In this regard, the spokesman for the National Security Council of the United States, John Kirby, responded at a press conference that depleted uranium munitions do not embody a radioactive threat and dismissed Putin’s argument for being untrue, as he has done in many opportunities. “The ammunition cannot be considered as nuclear. Its ability is only piercing on special armor. Consequently, if Russia is concerned about its armored vehicles, its tanks and the well-being of its soldiers, the best thing Putin can do would be to withdraw them towards the territory of his country, get them out of Ukraine and stop their violation of the Ukrainian border”; Kirby added.
The problem with Putin’s strategy is that both parties have nuclear weapons and this increases the risk that these weapons will be used by one of them or worse, by both. The truth is that the explosion of any nuclear weapon would generate devastating long-term effects from ionizing radiation.
Belarus was one of four member states of the former Soviet Union that transferred nuclear weapons to the Russian Federation when the communist regime collapsed in the 1990s. Putin’s plan to return to Belarus would mark the first transfer of nuclear weapons since the fall of the former Soviet Union. To do this, Putin has been preparing the ground and modernizing Belarusian aircraft to the point of making them operational to transport nuclear warheads and, since last year, he has provided short-range Iskandar missiles to the Belarusian government.
Western intelligence agencies maintain that the transfer of this type of tactical weapons involves Belarus in a much more active way in the war, until now Minsk was able to stay out of it and not send troops to Ukraine without Moscow getting annoyed, but that it may change as Putin becomes increasingly dependent on Belarus. This shows Russia’s political weakness, since by carrying out this transfer, Moscow is reversing the historical process that strengthened Russia and placed it in a favorable position that it seems to be losing.
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