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Ukraine Crisis, Nuclear Weapons and Belarus

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According to Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), there are five states, that are legally have the status to be a “nuclear state”. At the same time, those countries are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Those states are the United States (US), Russia, France, Britain, and China. Those actors have highlighted the danger of nuclear weapons and nuclear wars and they have published declaration on January 3, 2022, claiming that kind of war shall not be realized. However, less than two months after this declaration, Russia increased the level of readiness and alertness for nuclear weapons and threatened states that might interfere with its intervention in Ukraine. Therefore, the world started to discuss about a threat of a nuclear war again. All of the developments confirm that the world is indeed facing the “Second World War” Period since 2002.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order in front of the cameras to “put the war readiness level of deterrent forces into a special mode” or “raise the level of alert”, is that Moscow’s orders against third parties, namely the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States, it has brought with it the evaluation of nuclear weapons as a deterrent factor. However, Putin’s expression was evaluated by the experts, that it is an unclear Notion and is a “verbal nuclear threat.” Thus, Britain’s Minister of Defence Ben Wallace has claimed that, since this notion does not take place in Russian nuclear doctrine, Russia’s real aim is to divert attentions.

On the other hand, Russia’s nuclear weapon threat does not comply with the conditions under which Russia will resort to nuclear weapons in Putin’s 2020 nuclear doctrine (Basic Principles of the State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence)[1]. Russia lists the conditions mentioned in the doctrine as follows:

  • In the condition of launching missiles to Russia’s or allies’ territories
  • In the condition of using nuclear weapons against Russia or allies
  • In the condition of an attack to critical facilities that blocks Russia’s use of nuclear unities.
  • In the condition of a conventional attack to Russia that would threat Russia’s existence

Although the Kremlin has made a vague statement, it can be said that the current conditions do not comply with those conditions. In such a situation, Russia’s changing the alarm levels of nuclear weapons indicates a different process. This is an indication that the principle of “not being the first to use” for all states consists of rhetoric.

Different figures are pronounced regarding the number of nuclear weapons in the hands of Russia. According to the Federation of American Scientists, Russia has 5,977 and the US has 5,428 nuclear weapons. In addition, Russia has 1,588 and the US has 1,644 ready-to-use strategic weapons.[2] The threats posed by strategic nuclear weapons on a global scale are clear. Smaller scale nuclear weapons are another threat. Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons pose a threat to the region. The US has between 180-200 tactical nuclear weapons in Turkey, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany within the framework of NATO. However, these weapons can only be used with certain aircraft.

As it can be understood, the developments in Ukraine have once again revealed the tactical and symbolic importance of tactical nuclear weapons, which are described as “remnants of the Cold War” by Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Of course, the design of these modernized weapons to be used with the F-35, the availability of these weapons in Turkey, and Turkey’s removal from the F-35 program emerge as a subject that needs to be addressed separately in this process.

In parallel with Russia’s step on nuclear weapons, the Belarusian Assembly changed the nuclear neutrality status in Article 18 of the Belarusian Constitution with a decision and made a constitutional amendment for the deployment of nuclear weapons on its territory, paving the way for Russia to deploy nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory. An interesting paradox occurs here: Immediately after the end of the Cold War, the issue of returning the weapons left in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan from the Soviet Union period to Russia came to the fore. While Belarus and Kazakhstan act fast in this regard; Ukraine has long resisted the return of arms. Today, the Putin administration considers the absence of nuclear weapons technology in Ukraine as a threat. In this environment, Belarus is preparing to host Russian nuclear weapons, as it was during the Cold War.

It is a serious claim that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated that he will demand nuclear weapons from Putin in an environment where the West is transferring nuclear weapons to Poland and Lithuania. As noted above, the US has nuclear weapons in only five European states. In this period, the claim that such a weapon transfer would be made to Poland and Lithuania came only from Belarus. However, when these allegations are taken into consideration with the withdrawal of first the US and then Russia from the 1987 Medium-Range Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2019, the developments take on a much more dangerous dimension.

The main issue to remember when evaluating all this information is that the George W. Bush administration withdrew from the 1972 Missile Defense System Convention in 2002. In fact, the world entered the “Second Cold War” period after this move. Although there have been ups and downs between the US and Russia, the conventional/nuclear arms race, which resembles the Cold War process, continues. The US continues to develop a missile defense system aimed at protecting its territory from nuclear weapons within the framework of the National Missile Defense Project. As a matter of fact, the European leg of this system was completed within the framework of the “European Progressive Adaptive Approach” by citing the “Iranian threat”. In the face of the North Korean threat, an important defense system has been developed in the Asia-Pacific region. The development of offensive weapons, which can be called Conventional Sudden Global, continues. Moreover, if the system is successful, the issue of nuclear attack and missile defense systems will need to be reconsidered. As a matter of fact, studies to develop hypersonic cruise missiles in support of this are continuing.

Against the moves of the US, Russia has also increased its activities in this area. Moscow administration is rapidly developing its conventional and nuclear weapons capabilities, especially RS-28 SARMAT weapons and Avangard hypersonic missile systems. It is known that Russia simultaneously developed missile defense systems.

The process of withdrawing from the contracts during the Second Cold War period, which started with the withdrawal of the US from the Missile Defense System Convention in 2002, continued with the withdrawal of the US and Russia from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2019. The NEW START Agreement, which is the continuation of the strategic nuclear weapons limitation/reduction agreements that started with the SALT Talks in 1972, was extended at the last minute by the US President Joe Biden.

Brennan described the insane process of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War as Mutual Assured Destruction, evoking the English word “mad” meaning crazy. Today, the folly of the USA or Russia is not only the two states; could result in the destruction of the entire world. Although it is not correct to describe himself as crazy, Putin’s words “What should we do with a planet that does not belong to Russia”[3] reveal that the world’s coming to the edge of a dangerous abyss is among the possibilities.


[1] “Basic Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on Nuclear Deterrence”, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, https://archive.mid.ru/en/web/guest/foreign_policy/international_safety/disarmament/-/asset_publisher/rp0fiUBmANaH/content/id/4152094, (Date of Accession: 01.03.2022).

[2] “Nuclear Forces”, FAS, https://fas.org/issues/nuclear-weapons/status-world-nuclear-forces/, (Date of Accession: 01.03.2022).

[3]  Steve Rosenberg, “Ukraine Invasion: Would Putin Press the Nuclear Button?”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60551140, (Date of Accession: 01.03.2022).

Doç. Dr. Şafak OĞUZ
2019 yılında Doçentlik unvanını alan Şafak OĞUZ, Türk Silahlı Kuvvetleri’ndeki (TSK) 23 yıllık hizmetinden sonra 2021 yılında emekli olmuştur. Görevi esnasında Birleşmiş Milletler (BM) ve Kuzey Atlantik Antlaşması Örgütü (NATO) bünyesinde de çalışan OĞUZ, Kitle İmha Silahları, Terörizm, Uluslararası Güvenlik, Uluslararası Örgütler ve Barış ve Çatışma Çalışmaları konularında çalışmalar yapmaktadır. OĞUZ, halen Kapadokya Üniversitesi İktisadi, İdari ve Sosyal Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nde öğretim üyeliği görevini sürdürmektedir. İyi derece İngilizce ve Almanca bilmektedir.