Nuclear blackmail, episode 372… Vladimir Putin has once again raised the threat of nuclear weapons: he has announced the forthcoming stockpiling in Belarus of tactical weapons, that is to say “small” bombs that can be used on the battlefield. It has no immediate effect since the storage silos will not be finished until next July, according to the Russian President.
Nevertheless, this announcement is enough to cause a stir, as every time, for a little over a year, that Moscow has raised the threat of nuclear apocalypse. In particular in Poland, neighboring Belarus. So why is he doing this?
Let us first note that Vladimir Putin is not afraid of contradiction. The day before, he signed with the Chinese number one Xi Jinping a declaration affirming that “the nuclear powers must not deploy nuclear weapons outside their territory”. Putin may point out that the Americans do it, in certain NATO countries for example; it’s still messy and it says a lot about the limits of Russian commitments.
What is Putin looking for in making this announcement? The same thing as since the beginning of the invasion: to scare the Europeans who would not want to “die for Ukraine”. There is no shortage of relays in Western countries to believe that Putin is serious, and that the risk of nuclear war should not be underestimated.
The reality is that since the start of the invasion thirteen months ago, Russia’s nuclear posture has not changed, according to the United States, which is monitoring this issue closely. Yesterday, the Pentagon saw no change in Russia’s nuclear posture, and indicated that NATO was doing the same.
On the other hand, two lessons can be drawn from this announcement. The first is that Belarus is totally vassalized by Russia. It was said that Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Minsk, was cautious, eager not to engage his country more directly in this war.
But he has no choice but to obey the demands of the Kremlin, his lifeline since the stolen 2019 elections. or, they are now related parties.
The second lesson is that we have to be very careful when we talk about the role of China, and especially the idea that it can be a mediator with its peace plan. By signing this soothing declaration with Putin, Xi Jinping above all took care of his own image of peaceful power. The next day, Putin did the opposite of what he promised.
The Europeans parading in Beijing – Emmanuel Macron is going there next week – hold up the Chinese declarations on nuclear power like a trophy. It is useful to avoid fatal escalations, but it is not enough. If Xi Jinping were serious, he would prevent Vladimir Putin from deploying his tactical weapons in Belarus, in contradiction to their common text.
In the end, it is first of all a rhetorical escalation like Vladimir Putin has already done. The only victim in this episode is Belarusian sovereignty, but no one had any illusions. The war continues on the classic military terrain, and it does not seem about to stop.