President for life Vladimir Putin’s latest attempt to unsettle the West and hint at nuclear escalation—announcing the intended movement of Russian tactical nuclear warheads into Belarus at the request of his Mussolini-like ally Alexander Lukashenko—is risible. It represents a continuation of Putin’s efforts to manipulate Western fears (and the well-documented concerns of the Biden administration) about the escalation risks of continued military assistance to Ukraine. It is deeply unserious but nevertheless has gained some resonance in mainstream media and on Twitter. Let’s be clear about this farce.
First, Russia maintains a bloated arsenal of medium- and short-range nuclear weapons, thanks to Putin’s violations of agreements to drastically reduce that arsenal reached in the early 1990s between his predecessors and President George H.W. Bush. Putin’s forces do not need additional lodgments in Belarus to threaten all of Ukraine: They can already do so from their bases inside Russia. Moreover, Russia has long deployed dual capable SS-26 Iskander missiles in Belarus. Putin’s apparent intention to station nuclear warheads there merely makes explicit a “nuclear threat” that has been implicit for some time. It barely changes the status quo.