Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a crusade to put all of Europe at risk in his seemingly maniacal power grab. Behind his brutish invasion of Ukraine has always been his unabashed goal of expanding the Kremlin’s power over all of the former Warsaw Bloc, and nuclear weapons extortion is clearly part of the strategy.
“We will transfer Iskander-M tactical missile systems to Belarus, which can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” Reuters reported about a Russian foreign ministry meeting between Putin and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The Iskander-M is a missile fired from a mobile launcher and a range of 300 miles. Designated “SS-26 Stone” by NATO, this weapon replaces the Soviet-era “Scud” missiles used liberally by Iraq against Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm. The range of the SS-26 Stone located in Belarus places Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine at risk of a possible tactical nuclear attack. Sweden in close proximity and Finland bordering Russia have always been in jeopardy of Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.
As troubling as nuclear missiles placed in Belarus is, the Minsk government routinely has been complicit in the horror visited on Ukraine. Now a prominent DC newspaper has said that Kyiv’s intelligence agency reported that “12 missiles were fired from Russian TU-22M3 bombers flying over Belarus. It was the first time, the Ukrainians said, that Belarusian airspace has been used for such an attack.” Assaulting Ukraine from the skies of Belarus is a way of drawing the Russian vassal deeper into the conflict after Minsk already had permitted its country to be a staging area for Russia’s invasion across Kyiv’s northern border.
Predictably, Putin fabricated a pretext for the decision to place nuclear-capable weapons on the ground in Russia’s western ally. He blamed the European reaction to his unprovoked assault on Ukraine as his reason for arming Belarus with atomic weapons. Russia’s neighbors Poland and Lithuania have provided strong military and humanitarian support for Ukraine and beefed up their defense capabilities. These actions were deemed by Putin “repulsive,” “aggressive,” and “confrontational.” The recent announcement from the European Union approving Ukraine’s candidacy for membership was not welcome news for the Russian oligarch, either.
“In the past week, Lithuania, in particular, has infuriated Russia by blocking the transit of goods subject to European sanctions traveling across its territory from Russia, through Belarus, to Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad,” Euronews explained. However, the aggressive response by Moscow has further strengthened the NATO alliance, along with Finland’s and Sweden’s intentions to join NATO.
The June 28-30 NATO summit meeting in Madrid, Spain, will consider ways to clear any speedbumps in the way of admitting Finland and Sweden. “I think the goal is to create as much positive momentum as we can behind the candidacies of Finland and Sweden. I am not sitting here today suggesting that all issues will be resolved by Madrid, but we’re going to try and resolve as many of them as possible so that Madrid gives a boost to their candidacies,” Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor stated, during a White House press briefing. Membership in NATO for Finland and Sweden is well on its way to becoming a reality.
The specter of atomic weapons in Belarus, a tactical stone’s-throw away from NATO allies, is a new development but should not be a surprise. As early as December last year, Kremlin leadership was rattling the nuclear saber, threatening to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles on the border with Europe. Again, only four days after its despicable invasion of Ukraine, Putin tried to cow the United States and NATO by raising Russia’s strategic forces’ readiness level. This action is reserved for an expected strategic nuclear attack. Considering the persistent threats of an atomic attack, the United States and NATO must be on guard to prevent Russia from going beyond just threats.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.