The stationing of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus announced by the Kremlin has met with clear criticism from the German government. In the Foreign Office in Berlin on Saturday evening there was talk of a "further attempt at nuclear intimidation". The Ukrainian government reacted demonstratively unimpressed to the announcement from Moscow. Shortly before, President Vladimir Putin had announced an armament program there that was said to be superior to western arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Putin announced on state television that evening that Russia and Belarus - both of which border Ukraine - had agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons have a shorter range than ICBMs - which could also hit the USA - but it is still several hundred kilometers. The Kremlin chief pointed out that the United States had also stationed nuclear weapons with allies in Europe. "We're just doing what they've been doing for decades," Putin said. In the past he had called for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Germany because they threatened Russia's security.
The Foreign Office did not want to leave it at that: "President Putin's comparison to NATO's nuclear participation is misleading and cannot serve to justify the step announced by Russia," said a spokesman from Berlin. In addition, Belarus has made several declarations internationally that it will be free of nuclear weapons. Belarus' permanent ruler Alexander Lukashenko - often referred to as "Europe's last dictator" - is one of Moscow's closest allies.
Putin: No violation of nuclear weapons treaty
Putin stressed that Russia's deal with Belarus does not violate the international treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons would not be left to Belarus either, but only kept there. Weapons training is scheduled to begin on April 3. The shafts for the Iskander missiles, which can be equipped with nuclear warheads, are expected to be completed on July 1st. Russia has recently helped Belarus convert aircraft, ten of which are now equipped to also shoot down tactical nuclear weapons, Putin said.
Anti-nuclear campaign warns of catastrophe
From the point of view of the Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Russian approach could lead to catastrophe. Putin's plan is an "extremely dangerous escalation," warned the Nobel Prize-winning organization in Geneva. This increases the likelihood that such weapons will also be used. "In the context of the Ukraine war, the risk of misjudgment or misinterpretation is extremely high."
The organization recalled that the Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (TPNW) prohibits states from allowing foreign nuclear weapons on their territory. The agreement passed in 2017 has so far been signed by 92 countries. However, Russia and Belarus are not included, nor are states with US nuclear weapons bases - including Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Putin announces 1,600 tanks for war against Ukraine
In his television appearance, Putin also announced that he would expand his own tank production in view of western tank deliveries to Ukraine. "The total number of tanks in the Russian army will exceed that of the Ukrainian army by three times, even more than three times," he said. While Ukraine will get 420 to 440 tanks from the west, Russia will build 1,600 new tanks or modernize existing tanks.
Ex-President Dmitry Medvedev had already announced the production of 1,500 tanks this week. Putin also said Russia could produce three times the amount of ammunition that western Ukraine wants to supply. The national armaments industry is developing at a rapid pace. However, he did not want to overly militarize his own economy, the Kremlin chief claimed.
Zelenskyj calls Russian defeat a guarantee against new aggressions
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described a "complete defeat of Russia" in the war as the best "guarantee against new aggression and crises". In his evening video speech on Saturday, he pointed out that Ukraine had received further aid from Germany and other countries in the past few days and would spend at least 500 million euros on the purchase of drones for the military by the end of the year.
In an interview that appeared in the Japanese daily "Yomiuri Shimbun" on Saturday, Zelenskyj dampened expectations of an imminent Ukrainian counter-offensive. This cannot begin yet because Kiev does not have enough weapons and ammunition for it.
IAEA chief visits Zaporizhia nuclear plant in Ukraine
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, wants to visit the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, which is occupied by Russian troops, next week. He decided to visit the nuclear power plant again "to see for himself how the situation has developed since September," said Grossi on Saturday in Vienna. He also wanted to "talk to those who operate the plant under unprecedented and very difficult conditions". Despite the presence of IAEA experts in the nuclear power plant, the situation is delicate.
What is important today
Fighting in eastern Ukraine continues unabated. The cities of Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Wuhledar in particular are still considered to be heavily contested. In addition, further reactions to the announced stationing of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus can be expected.