• Why in News- In the latest escalation to the Russia­ Ukraine war, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last Saturday that Russia plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. 
  • Tactical nuclear weapons refer to small nuclear warheads and delivery systems meant for use on the battlefield or for limited strikes. 

Why the sudden announcement? 

  • Mr. Putin said the announcement was prompted by the U.K.’s decision last week to supply armour­ piercing rounds containing depleted uranium to Ukraine. 
  • Depleted uranium munitions augment the ability to overcome defences on tanks and have been described by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as “chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal.”.
  • Russia claims that the positioning of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by Russia does not violate any international agreements that Moscow has signed because the control over the weapons would remain with Russia just as the U.S. retains control over its nuclear weapons on its allies’ territories.
  • Moreover, there have been no arms control agreements between the U.S. and Russia on tactical nuclear weapons unlike in the case of strategic nuclear weapons. 
  • Interestingly, the announcement contradicts the joint statement made by Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping last week where they asked nuclear states to refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad. 
  • Russia has already helped Belarus upgrade its warplanes so that they can carry nuclear weapons. 
  • It is for the first time ever that Russia is deploying nuclear weapons

outside its borders.

Why Belarus? 

  • A former Soviet state, which like Kazakhstan and Ukraine handed over its nuclear weapons to Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus has developed close military and political ties with Russia.
  • It is one of the closest and few remaining allies of Russia. 
  • Belarus is a member of the Russian ­led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, as well as the Eurasian Economic Union.
  • Moreover, Belarus gets subsidised oil and natural gas imports from Russia.
  • As was the case with Ukraine, Russia wants to keep Belarus in its sphere of influence and therefore supports the regime of Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko (often dubbed ‘Europe’s last dictator’), which is seen as friendly by Russia.  
  • Belarus’ geo­strategic position, between Russia and Ukraine and between Russia and Poland, makes it very important for Russia. 
  • It also shares borders with three NATO members — Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
  • The latest move by the Kremlin clearly escalates the Russia­ Ukraine war to an entirely new dimension — the nuclear realm.
  • It also gives the West an opportunity to use this pretext to further escalate the war. The move does not bode well for peace.