What Russia’s use of nukes in Belarus means - GulfToday

What Russia’s use of nukes in Belarus means

The Iskander — seen here in an archive photo — has a range of up to 500km. Reuters

The Iskander — seen here in an archive photo — has a range of up to 500km. Reuters

The Russian deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus has provoked, and predictably too, a negative reaction from the United States, the other big nuclear power which has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in NATO member-countries at the beginning of the Cold War in the 1950s. Russia has said the US reaction was hypocritical.

The Russian move raises concerns because it comes in the middle of the war in Ukraine, and last year Russian President Vladimir Putin had said that Russia would fall back on nuclear weapons as a last resort to defend itself.

Russia sees the war in Ukraine not just against Ukraine but against NATO, a Western military alliance formed to fight communist Soviet Union, but which was not disbanded with the fall of communism in Russia and in eastern Europe.  One of the provocations for the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the imminent admission of Ukraine as a member of NATO. Of course, the war has only temporarily interrupted the NATO plan to admit Ukraine. Strategy experts are sure to debate whether Ukraine would have been attacked if it had been a member of NATO.

Right now, NATO, and more the US, are supporting Ukraine, but NATO has not responded to the Russian invasion by admitting Ukraine to NATO because there is the awareness that it would then become an all-out war between Europe and Russia. The European Union, which is an economic and political grouping, is willing to speed up the process of admitting Ukraine, but NATO has shelved the plan of admitting Ukraine. Of course, the question arises as to what are the immediate consequences of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons of Russia in Belarus. Does it mean that Russia plans to employ the tactical weapons with an intention to use them in the war against Ukraine? Tactical nuclear weapons are less powerful than strategic nuclear weapons which would destroy completely the enemy cities as did the American atomic bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has been felt that Putin has talked of the nuclear option as a pressure tactic and that he is not likely to fall back on it. But the fear ever since the US and Russia entered the nuclear race is that a nuclear war can be unleashed without an intention of ever doing so. It is the nightmare scenario that haunts strategy experts in the West. It is for this reason that the US pretends that it does not want other countries to have nuclear weapons because it feels that countries other than the US would be less responsible. In the eyes of the Americans, Russia falls in the category of the less responsible countries in the matter of nuclear weapons.

Russia is of course questioning the American presumption. But it is also asserting its deployment of the tactical nuclear weapons to safeguard its legitimate security interests. Russia is quite clear in its mind that it is not fighting Ukraine as much as it is the NATO and the West. And Moscow is looking for reliable allies, and it finds Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to be one of them. Lukashenko is hostile to the West and he is seen as an authoritarian ruler in his country. It also seems that Russia wants to revive the satellite states which it had formed in eastern Europe through the then Warsaw Pact – a counterpart of NATO. Many of the former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland and Hungary are opposed to Russia. That does not leave much choice for Russia than to turn to countries like Belarus.  

There was a time before the emergence of Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine that Ukraine too would be part of Russia’s satellite states system. But with a pro-democratic, pro-West government in Ukraine, Russia is looking for other allies.

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