Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia‘s eastern neighbor. Belarus also borders northern Ukraine, and Putin wants Minsk to participate more openly in their war against their common neighbor.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has been cautious in the face of Russian invasion but depends on Russian aid to stay in power, especially after Putin helped him repel mass protests in 2020. Lukashenko likely has no choice but to accept the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of your country.
Belarus also borders NATO countries. Putin’s deployment of these weapons is likely an indirect threat to the West. It fits with Putin’s habit of talking about Russian nuclear weapons to unnerve Western supporters of Ukraine. The tactic makes sense.
What does this deployment of nuclear weapons mean?
Russian mainstream power has embarrassed itself in Ukraine. His army had a hard time, and most of the world expected a quick victory for the Russian forces. Putin invokes Russian nuclear weapons to compensate. He has a long history of bravado like this.
Western allies of Putin’s will claim once more that this deployment means we are plunging into a global conflagration, a topic they have been discussing for over a year. But they are probably wrong. How invoking nuclear weapons will help Putin win a limited conventional war remains unclear.
Nuclear Belarus: Ukraine Is Not Entering World War III
Putin’s move in Belarus would be much more disturbing if World War III seemed imminent or likely, but it is not. This conflict is being waged in a very small area to the east and south of Ukraine with conventional weapons, so there is no reason to use nuclear weapons.
This is why the hype of World War III by pro-Putin voices in the West is so suspect. His findings suggest a political strategy of pressuring Ukraine to negotiate a ceasefire and avoid a nuclear exchange.
However, many analysts also want Putin to win the war, so their reasoning seems strongly motivated. They are using the West’s nuclear concerns to push for an aid cut to Ukraine to pursue their real goal: a Putin victory.
Putin and nuclear weapons
Critically, no evidence exists that a world war, or even a Russian nuclear attack on Ukraine, is imminent. Empirically, Putin is not taking Russian weapons out of secure storage or loading them onto attack platforms.
China, Putin’s main ally in his effort to counter escalating sanctions on the Russian economy, has repeatedly said that nuclear weapons should not be used in this conflict.
Analytically, it is difficult to determine what Putin could attack with such powerful weapons. The risks of a nuclear attack are enormous. A small nuclear attack on Ukraine would cement Western support for Kyiv indefinitely.
That would drive a wedge between the two countries and lead to global calls for Putin to resign. Attacking NATO with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous.
NATO would declare war on Russia. Russia would be pressured to respond with a nuclear strike. World War III could well start in this case. According to Putin’s apologists, not because of the West but because of Putin himself.
Russia is losing the war: but Putin is rational.
It’s quite doubtful that Putin would take such a chance. Putting nuclear weapons in a country close to NATO territory raises legitimate concerns, and the media will likely portray this as such. But this is neither a tipping point nor an escalation.
Putin will not provoke a nuclear war with NATO if he believes he cannot win the conflict by conventional means. There will be no nuclear arms race escalation between NATO and Russia. The West would gain nothing strategically by doing so.
The vague notion that Russia and the West could somehow slide into nuclear war is not credible. States do not make haphazard decisions about something as meaningful as a nuclear war. Putin may be desperate because he doesn’t know how to win in Ukraine. But he is not stupid or suicidal.
Will Putin use nuclear weapons?
It’s doubtful that Ukraine will resort to even using tactical nuclear weapons. No single significant military installation in Ukraine could be the focus of such a massive assault.
Employing nuclear weapons on the battlefield would generate radioactive zones that Russia would find impossible to capture or govern.
Moscow wants in Ukraine for armored troops to burst past Ukrainian lines, allowing for more room to maneuver and eventual conquest by the Russian military. This may be the final straw for Ukraine. Even if the external impact from NATO and China could be minimized, it’s hard to see how nuclear bombardment of Ukrainian positions would help.
Putin’s frequent displays of nuclear weapons to the Western media have not altered the path of the conflict in Ukraine. There is no apparent path to success with them, and a nuclear attack on NATO would be suicidal. It’s just another trick by an aging and paranoid dictator frustrated by a war he can’t win.