Putin announced the start of construction of a storage facility for nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus and that the object would be commissioned by July. At the same time, the weapons will be Russian, and part of the Belarusian military men will supposedly be trained to use them. What does it mean?
1. Let’s read “from the end”. Lukashenko will not receive nuclear weapons at his disposal, but at the same time he will be able to say about strengthening the country’s security in the domestic field.
In reality, we have a PERMANENT military base on the territory of Belarus. After all, it is naive to believe that the Russian Federation will give the protection of its nuclear weapons to someone else.
That will be the base, without signing relevant documents, bilateral agreements and understanding for what period and on what conditions. And, unlike the Navy communications centre, the locator near Gantsevichi, or mobile phones at the training grounds, you can’t quickly ask this base “to go out”. “Consultation with the Russian Federation” will be required, regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine.
That is, Russia is trying to bind Belarus to itself even more, making it extremely difficult to drift to reduce Russian influence both in the western direction and in the eastern one (China). Putin, realizing the weakness of Lukashenko’s position, makes an application for the permanent presence of the Russian Federation as a force of influence in the sight of both the end of the war in Ukraine and the internal processes in Belarus.
2. This is a blow to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is signed by both the Russian Federation and Belarus. Paragraph 1 of the treaty states that none of the states possessing nuclear weapons will transfer them directly or indirectly to a state that does not possess them. Paragraph 2 states that a state that does not have nuclear weapons will not directly or indirectly accept them. That is why the Russian Federation will not talk about transfer, but about placement. And that is why the placement will mean a permanent Russian military base in Belarus. It is quite possible with the transfer for long-term use of the territory under it.
Such a move is an attempt to raise the stakes in the confrontation with the EU and the US on issues, including the war in Ukraine. And, by and large, it is an “invitation to consultations”. Russia still counts on freezing the war “somewhere in the middle” as a profitable way out of the difficult situation. That is why Putin calls the date of “completion of construction” of the storage facility – July 1. And he announces the latest delivery of nuclear weapons. There is no certainty in the possibility of success in the war, and there is also no certainty in the possibility of holding the front. The only option is an agreement with a “big geopolitical exchange”. Moreover, this option will allow Putin’s entourage to create an acceptable for society “image of victory” in the war against Ukraine.
In this context, China’s possible position is interesting. On the one hand, the nuclear escalation that they spoke about is extremely unprofitable for Beijing. But for the PRC, the end of the war in Ukraine without the defeat of any of the parties with a weakened Russia is beneficial (that is, the end in the coming year). And it is beneficial when the Kremlin is trying to shake the foundations of the global security system. After all, in this case, consultations between the United States and China on the issues of a new world order become even more relevant – the two “adequate” centres of power must agree on how to restrain the not-too-adequate impulses of other countries. Thus, China can perceive the threats relatively calmly. With real placement, it is already more difficult – this is a blow to China’s interests and positions in the field of security, as well as (to a much lesser extent) an attempt by the Kremlin to limit Chinese expansion into the countries of the former USSR (for example, Belarus).
Amid the conflict with the West, Lukashenko himself will use statements about the replacement of nuclear weapons in Belarus as evidence of the growth of his political stability and subjectivity. In reality, he does not understand that the conversations concerning the future of Belarus (and his in Belarus) will be extremely illogical with him. The EU countries, the PRC (in the case of a real placement) will talk with Moscow, and not with Minsk. But the Russian Federation will be able to calmly do what they want. Right up to the operation, code-named “We have had enough of Sasha – let’s get a new one”.
Will Lukashenko receive money for the base? There is doubt. The base will be sold to him for the illusion of his own power. Therefore, even from the point of view of finances (and the payments for similar objects in the world are very high), he will be left not with money, but with dreams of his strength.
The key factor in Putin’s statements, however, is an attempt to reach consultations on the end of the war in Ukraine. Let me remind you that Putin tried to use nuclear blackmail twice in 2022. It did not work. Now, especially after the arrest warrant (as a signal from the West that Putin is no longer considered as a negotiating partner), the third round begins, not only in words.
The Kremlin is waiting for the beginning of negotiations. They even mark the date.
But, the question arises, what will happen if blackmail remains unanswered?
Before July, the likelihood of consultations is in any case low – Ukraine’s Western partners will expect a Ukrainian offensive, and based on its results, they will be determined with the logic of further military-political actions.
• If the offensive is successful, then there is no particular need to talk to Putin once again. Then the logic works to put the squeeze on the Russian Federation to withdraw from most of the occupied territories.
• If the offensive fails, then Putin does have a chance. That is why I do not rule out that the recruited mobs (who have not yet been allowed into battle) and new contract soldiers will be puzzled by holding back the Ukrainian advance in May-June. For the Kremlin, such a task becomes a key one. After all, after this, the war risks dragging on not for a year, but not for a longer period. And here there is already room for political manoeuvre.
Still, the likelihood that Putin’s blackmail will work is low. What happens if different? The next escalation stage is the use of nuclear weapons. But this is a completely different war with other participants, a different scale. Where, by the way, the new “nuclear weapons storage base” on the territory of Belarus will become a target from the top ten for destruction.