Ex-US Ambassador Says Putin's Nuclear Plan Has No Impact

Published Mar 30 

A former U.S. Ambassador said this week that Russia's plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus won't have a real military impact and called the decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin "even a bit pathetic."

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and current nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, published an op-ed piece in the Kyiv Independent on Tuesday, where he wrote about the recent announcement by Putin that Russia was deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.

"In a March 25 interview, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus for use by the Belarusian military. He compared this to U.S. 'nuclear-sharing' with its NATO allies," Pifer wrote in the op-ed. "The reality is that, even if Russian nuclear arms are actually placed in Belarus, that would not increase the military threat to Ukraine or to NATO."

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko (C) attends a joint exercise of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State's Response Force, at a firing range near the town of Osipovichi outside Minsk on February 17, 2022. On Tuesday, March 28, 2023, a former US Ambassador to Ukraine published an op-ed discussing President Vladimir Putin's plans to place a nuclear weapon in Belarus. MAXIM GUCHEK/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

As Pifer noted in his op-ed, Putin recently announced that Russia was planning to place a tactical nuclear weapon in Belarus earlier this month, as the Russia-Ukraine war has continued. Throughout the war, Belarus has been a close ally of Putin.

In February, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told BelTA, a Belarusian state-run news agency, that he will only join Russia in the war if Ukraine decides to attack Belarus.

"If at least one soldier from there [Ukraine] comes to the territory of Belarus to kill my people...If they commit aggression against Belarus, the answer will be most cruel," Lukashenko said.

In the op-ed, Pifer wrote that Putin "likes to appear strong and to show that he can take provocative steps to retaliate for actions he does not like," and noted that the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus could be in response to the arrival of Leopard tanks in Ukraine or the failure of Russian forces in Bakhmut.

"Only the Kremlin knows for sure, but the announcement of a nuclear arms deployment that has no real military impact seems somewhat desperate on Putin's part, even a bit pathetic," Pifer wrote.

"The one who ought to worry is Lukashenko. He surely understands that any nuclear weapons in Belarus will remain firmly under Russian control. Ever more dependent on Putin (just as Putin seems ever more dependent on Xi), Lukashenko might want to mind what he has left of Belarusian sovereignty," Pifer added.

Shortly after Putin announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about it and said, "We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon."