Russian Nuclear Weapons In Belarus: How To Restore Balance In Nuclear Deterrence And Ensure Ukraine’s Security – OpEd


At the end of July, the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that they have “no reason to doubt” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia has moved a first batch of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

In turn, back in October 2022, the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, stated that the issue of placing American nuclear weapons on Polish territory, within the framework of the Nuclear Sharing mechanism, is open.

Certainly, such a reaction from the Polish President is justified and is a search for an adequate response to Russia’s decision to move nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Next, I will explain why the concept of nuclear deterrence by Russia needs to be expanded to include Ukraine.

But first, a bit of history to understand why exactly the Russian Federation is responsible for escalating aggression, particularly in the matter of nuclear weapons.”

“Russia against NATO expansion. How many times have we heard such statements from representatives of the Russian government over the years? Moreover, before the full-scale aggressive invasion of Russian troops into Ukraine, President Putin referred to Ukraine as a threat to Russia’s existence. Ukraine, which lacks nuclear weapons, never had any plans to initiate aggressive war against Russia. And, agreed, consciously acting as an aggressor against a nuclear state is sheer madness. Of course, there were no plans to invade Russia, Ukraine, or anywhere else. Just as there were no such plans in the West or NATO.

Why then, after the war, did the United States significantly reduce its military presence, and funding for armies, defense, and security in Europe was substantially diminished? Even in the early 2000s, Russia had more cooperation and exchange programs with NATO than Ukraine did with the Alliance. The Russian Federation was integrated into the European economic space and was a major supplier of gas, oil, and other resources and goods. At the same time, the West actively invested in the Russian economy. There were no permanent NATO bases on the Eastern flank of NATO; there were only small troop contingents on a rotational basis.

It’s worth noting that there were no guarantees that Ukraine was being rapidly prepared for NATO membership. There are none now either. Furthermore, Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, illegally annexing a part of Ukrainian territory – Crimea. By the way, back then, Ukraine had a formal neutral status, declared by the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Therefore, the possible expansion of NATO and the Kremlin’s exaggerated threats are purely manipulations and attempts to find excuses for their own aggressive actions that violate international norms. The true reasons for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine lie in Moscow’s neo-imperial course. Even a former aide to President Putin stated that Russia needs to live by the idea of expansion because as soon as the Russian government starts addressing its many internal problems, the concept of Russian statehood will be lost.”

Russian President Putin, along with the ruling elites, denies the Ukrainian people’s right to identification and self-determination. The attempts to commit genocide and suppress other nations have been characteristic of Russia for centuries. The reasons behind this Russian aggression against Ukraine have a distinctly genocidal nature, rather than countering any feigned threats from NATO or Ukraine. This also demonstrates the mindset of the current Russian leadership, which operates under the principles of 19th-century absolutism. It’s worth mentioning the frequent references by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Alexander Gorchakov.

But let’s return to nuclear deterrence. As is known, Ukraine voluntarily relinquished its nuclear weapons. Instead, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia guaranteed the preservation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty. France and China later supported the memorandum. I emphasize that the basis for Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was the Budapest Memorandum. Therefore, one can conclude that there has been a breach of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

It’s already evident that the decision made by Ukraine and the US at that time to voluntarily relinquish nuclear weapons was a grave mistake. As John J. Mearsheimer rightfully warned back in 1993, Ukraine possessing nuclear weapons would have provided a guarantee of nuclear deterrence for Russia and as a consequence, prevented a war in Europe. The error of Ukraine’s decision was also acknowledged by the 42nd President of the US, Bill Clinton. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine with nuclear weapons would have been impossible. Just consider the example of India and Pakistan, where the presence of nuclear weapons in Pakistan became a restraining factor, putting an end to the confrontation between the two countries. In the case of Ukraine retaining nuclear weapons, the entire Eurasian region would have benefited, ensuring stable trade routes and better and faster logistics.

Therefore, in response to the constant threats and nuclear blackmail from the Kremlin, along with the placement of nuclear weapons in Belarus, the deployment of American nuclear weapons in Poland and Ukraine should indeed be considered. This deployment would have full control and the potential for application only by Washington. It would send a powerful signal to Russia that irresponsible threats of nuclear weapon use are unacceptable. This would undoubtedly be a factor that could halt Russian aggression and a large-scale war in Europe, while providing genuine security guarantees to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Historical examples demonstrate the effectiveness of such strategies.

The US should take leadership in this matter and rectify the mistakes made three decades ago. The lack of resolve has already led to North Korea now posing a nuclear threat. Ukraine, driven by overly idealistic aspirations, made a significant contribution to global security by giving up its nuclear arsenals and is now suffering from Russian unprovoked and illegal aggression. Now it’s the West’s turn to contribute to global security. Otherwise, motivations for nuclear programs in various countries will increase, potentially leading to chaos on our planet. Stopping Russia and restoring balance to bring about peace is possible, and this path involves assisting Ukraine in its victory in the war and in nuclear deterrence against Russia.

Oleksandr Musiienko

Oleksandr Musiienko is a military and legal analyst, and head of NGO "Center for Military and Legal Studies"

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