Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia’s eastern neighbor. Belarus also borders Ukraine’s north, and Putin wants Minsk to participate more openly in his war against their shared neighbor. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has acted warily with respect to Russia’s invasion, but he depends on Russian assistance to stay in power, especially after Putin helped him fight off mass protests in 2020. Lukashenko probably has little choice but to assent to the deployment of Russian nukes on his country’s territory.
Belarus also borders NATO countries. Putin’s emplacement of these weapons is likely meant as an oblique threat to the West. It fits Putin’s regular habit of talking up Russian nuclear weapons to unnerve Ukraine’s Western supporters. The tactic makes sense. Russian conventional power has embarrassed itself in Ukraine. Its army has struggled, and most of the world had expected a quick victory for Russian forces. Putin invokes Russia’s nukes to compensate. He has a long history of such bravado.
Putin’s Western sympathizers, who have talked up the possibility of World War III for over a year, will argue again that this deployment means we are sliding toward a global conflagration. But they are probably wrong. It remains unclear how invoking nukes will help Putin win a limited conventional war.
Belarus Nukes: Ukraine Is Not Spiraling Into World War III
Putin’s Belarus move would be far more unnerving if World War III seemed imminent or likely, but it doesn’t. There is no obvious utility for nuclear weapons in the current war, which is being fought with conventional weapons in a contained space limited to eastern and southern Ukraine. This is why the WWIII hype from Putin-sympathetic voices in the West is so suspicious. The policy deduction of their analysis is to push Ukraine into concessions to end the war and stop a slide toward a nuclear exchange. Yet many of these analysts also want Putin to win the war, so their reasoning feels strongly motivated. They are using Western nuclear anxieties to push a Ukraine aid cut-off in pursuit of their real goal — a Putin victory,
Critically, there is no evidence that a world war, or even a Russian nuclear strike in Ukraine, is imminent. Empirically, Putin is not removing Russian weapons from safe storage, nor loading them onto strike platforms. China, Putin’s main ally in its effort to counter the growing sanctions on Russia’s economy, has said repeatedly that nuclear weapons must not be used in this conflict.
Analytically, it is hard to determine what Putin might strike with such powerful weapons. The risks involved in carrying out a nuclear strike are tremendous. A small nuclear strike in Ukraine would solidify Western support for Kyiv indefinitely. It would deeply alienate China and fire calls in much of the world for Putin to step down. A nuclear strike against NATO would be even riskier. NATO would declare war on Russia. There would be pressure to nuke Russia in return. World War III might well begin in this instance. Not because of the West, per Putin’s apologists, but because of Putin himself.
Russia Is Losing the War, But Putin Is Rational
Putin is highly unlikely to take such risks. Placing nuclear weapons in a country adjacent to NATO looks scary, and the media will play it up as such. But is not, in fact, a tipping point or escalatory step. Putin will not start a war with NATO that he cannot win conventionally and which might result in NATO nuclear strikes on Russia. Nor will NATO escalate against Russia in the nuclear realm. There is no strategic value to the West in doing that.
The vague notion that Russia and the West might somehow slide into a nuclear war is just not credible. States do not make casual decisions about something as momentous as nuclear war. Putin may be desperate, because he cannot figure out how to win in Ukraine. But he is not stupid or suicidal.
Even the use of smaller or tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is highly unlikely. There is no large, concentrated military target in Ukraine commensurate with such a massive strike. Using nuclear weapons on the battlefield would create irradiated spaces that would be hard for Russia to conquer or control. What Russia needs in Ukraine is a breakthrough — an armored punch through Ukraine’s lines that opens up terrain to Russian maneuver and conquest. This is what could push Ukraine to concede. It is hard to see how nuking Ukrainian positions would facilitate that, even if the external consequences from NATO and China could somehow be contained.
No matter how many times Putin waves his nukes around for the Western press, they do not meaningfully change the course of war in Ukraine. There is no obvious way to use them for victory, and a nuclear strike on NATO would be suicidal. It is just another gimmick from an aging, paranoid dictator frustrated by a war he cannot win.
Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; RobertEdwinKelly.com) is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.
March 28, 2023 at 2:31 pm
Thanks Vlad…just another one of your miscalculations. Nothing like stationing tactical nukes in Belarus to stiffen the growing opposition to the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko…calling all Partisans!!!
March 28, 2023 at 2:45 pm
The Wehrmacht invaded Russia with 20,000 tanks.
You globalists, after destroying all industrial production in the West on the altar of globalism and the cross of evil profits, are sending 100 Challenger and Leopard tanks.
Why should anyone take anything you have to say seriously ever at all?
March 28, 2023 at 3:30 pm
It’s an escalation… nuclear…
In response to British defense ministry announcement of DU Depleted Uranium shells being sent to Ukraine.
Does the United States government outsource our foreign policy to a foreign power… Britain?
A nuclear escalation?
(Did Britain inform or consult with Biden… we don’t know.)
Gimmick or no, moving around nuclear weapons isn’t a good thing.
DU has long lasting impacts (DU dust) nuclear pollution… I thought we were trying to save Ukraine… not leave it like Fallujah, Iraq.
Stop the nuclear ladder… you don’t want to be a frog warmed up to a nuclear boil… white flash…
Contain the battlefield… contain the damage…save lives… generations could depend on it…
When does the description reckless come into play?
And what are the consequences?
March 28, 2023 at 4:20 pm
If we had a real president instead of a senile one, he would mention that all Belarusian cities will be added to the liast of our nuclear targets as long as Belarus hosts nuclear weapons. Let the Belarussian people think about that one for awhile.
March 28, 2023 at 4:54 pm
Roger, your reaction is my point.
Where does it lead?
March 28, 2023 at 7:28 pm
An article of reason. It’s like this article was written directly for Davis as he is so paranoid of Russia and their nukes. Russia won’t use Nukes in a war they started. They made a huge miscalculation, but they aren’t suicidal.
Now for Jim and his idiot comment on DU. DU is not nukes. Read the word “depleted” that means that the radioactivity has been largely removed. It is less radioactive than normal uranium. Not saying that there is no radioactivity, everything is radioactive, just lower than normal uranium. It still is poisonous as a heavy metal. The use of a lot of rounds poisons the air and ground. I’m not a huge fan of them. But they are effective and they are not nukes. So they can’t be used as excuse for Nukes in Belarus. Russia is lying about this. Want proof? Russia uses DU rounds themselves and said in the past that using DU doesn’t break any nuclear agreement.
March 28, 2023 at 8:31 pm
No, Walker, it’s not explosive.
You’re a wrong… DU is radioactive… dust… it penetrates and vaporizes… like I said, I thought we were trying to save Ukraine… not leave it like Fallujah, Iraq… and all the birth defects.
You should be concerned about nuclear war.
To the extent you don’t… you’re a fool… but I already knew that.
March 28, 2023 at 8:47 pm
This author states that western supporters of Russia are probably wrong about Russia using nukes.
First, I do not want to see my children become radioactive waste on probably. Second, westerners that fear a nuclear confrontation are not supporters of Russia. This author’s miscalculation on whether we are supporters of Russia also means is not to be trusted.
March 28, 2023 at 9:15 pm
You’re whining about nukes in Belarus? America has nukes and missile systems in every nato country.
Please shut up.
March 28, 2023 at 10:46 pm
Ain’t no “gimmick” if the weapons *do* end up actually stationed there—–deployed, fitted/ armed, and ready. Who the hell could credibly claim so then?
March 29, 2023 at 12:45 am
Russia must transition to nukes in its confrontation with ukro forces & US-NATO.
Conventional arms don’t or won’t stop the modern day genghis horde.
US already has b61 nukes stored in germany, italy, netherlands and turkiye.
Now is the time, very most especially just right after the 2024 paris games concludes, to hurl tactical nukes against the fascist forces.
That will force biden to consider exercising several options. None of them good.
First option: retaliate by blunderbusting east asian powers like china & north korea. Will result jn nuclear armageddon in the pacific region, totally destroying friends and foe alike.
Second option: unleash those b61 stockpiles in europe. Result is armageddon in europe with countries like norway & germany smouldering in radioactive smoke. For months.
Third option: hit right back at moscow with 400 super duper 3rd gen Minuteman missiles. Result is a (post) nuclear Earth where only furry mammals reign the ground.
Forth option: bang balls hard and flap sardine furiously while hurling curses at putin. This is what lloyd austin would advise or want biden to do in the event moscow fully transitions to use of nukes in order to put a total end to the dumb proxy war in ukraine.
March 29, 2023 at 8:40 am
i ask all europeans counytries to have their own nukes. now you have the ability to build them so build them instead of counting on american hesitation.. italy, holland ,danish, german , spain , portugal, finland sweeden UKRAIN AND SOUTH KOREA BUILD YOUR NUKE IF DONT WANT BE VICTIMS OF AMERICAN HESITATION AND RUSSIA AND CHINESE BULLYINGS. BUILD THEM AND YOU WILL BE FREE
March 29, 2023 at 9:03 am
Jim, who ever said “explosive”? Certainly not me. You call me a fool, and yet I am right. DU is around 40% less radioactive than natural uranium. So no you aren’t a fool, you are just stupid. You do get it right that DU doesn’t explode it vaporizes on impact. If you are in a tank that gets hit by a DU round, you certainly won’t have to worry about the radiation, that isn’t going to kill you, but you will be dead. So I’m not at all surprised that you Russians are really worried about them. The dust you worry about again isn’t going to hurt you by touching it. But I would highly suggest you don’t eat it or breath it. But I would give the exact same suggestion for any heavy metals. They are all bad for your health. But again, it isn’t the radiation it is the toxicity that is the problem. If you thought for half a second, of course you would need a brain first, you would realize that it isn’t the radioactivity or it would be the soldiers handling the rounds that would be the most in danger of it. Again, I will say it, it doesn’t have anything to do nuclear escalation because it basically isn’t that radioactive.
One thing else that everyone seems to miss. Arming Belarus with tactical nukes isn’t a worry for Ukraine so much as it is a problem for Belarus. Russia isn’t going to use them in Ukraine, and Belarus isn’t going to use them. The only thing that makes sense is that by Putin putting Nukes in Belarus, he is ruining Belarus standing in the west and he is tying Belarus hands. To me this is part of Putin’s plans to take over Belarus more than anything else. And I would suggest no one fall for it. If I was Belarus, I would refuse them. Russia can use nukes from Russia, I wouldn’t want them in my country if I were Belarusian.
March 29, 2023 at 9:04 am
404 is another idiot, and a suicidal one at that. Use nukes and I can almost guarantee you won’t be alive within a month.
March 29, 2023 at 9:43 pm
This is way bigger deal than you make it out to be. I completely question your understanding and wouldn’t want you as a professor sure. This is expansion of nuclear arms to yet another country making Belarus now untouchable and a further threat to NATO countries and the world. Nuclear weapons are never to be taken with this sense of ease. Who cares what it does or doesn’t do for the conflict in Ukraine. It’s what it can do to all of civilization
March 29, 2023 at 10:04 pm
It could signal Putins next advance is coming.
The war is not over.