Putin's decision to move nukes to Belarus irritated the West. Did it also 'humiliate' China?
The U.S. and NATO on Sunday criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin's "dangerous and irresponsible" announcement Saturday that he will transfer tactical nuclear weapons to neighboring ally Belarus, even as they downplayed its risk to the security of Europe.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby told CBS's Face the Nation that there's no indication Putin has actually "moved any nuclear weapons around," much less "has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine." The U.S. is monitoring the situation, he added, but "we've seen nothing that would cause us to change our own strategic deterrent posture."
Meanwhile, Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko "humiliated" Chinese President Xi Jinping with this move, tweeted Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia. During Xi's visit to Moscow last week, BBC News notes, he and Putin issued a joint statement saying that "all nuclear powers must not deploy their nuclear weapons beyond their national territories, and they must withdraw all nuclear weapons deployed abroad." Given that statement and Lukashenko's recent "fancy state visit to China," McFaul added, he "can't imagine this decision is going down well in Beijing."
Ukraine on Sunday called for an emergency meeting of the Untied Nations Security Council to "counter the Kremlin's nuclear blackmail." Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's national security council, said aside from any threat to Ukraine, Putin's announcement destabilizes Belarus, adding, "The Kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage."
Putin in his announcement said Lukashenko has requested Belarus host Russia's nuclear weapons for the first time since the mid-1990s and compared his decision to the U.S. placing nuclear weapons inside NATO countries, a comparison NATO rejected.
Lukashenko did in fact invite Putin to station nuclear weapons in his country in 2021, the Institute for the Study of War reports, and "Putin likely refrained from deploying the weapons to Belarus at the start of the 2022 invasion in order to preserve the option to deploy them as part of a future Russian information operation to manipulate the West." Putin's announcement "is irrelevant to the risk of escalation to nuclear war, which remains extremely low," ISW assessed.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had pointed to Putin's joint statement with China as a sign that the world was safer from nuclear weapons use. On Sunday he slammed Putin's "irresponsible escalation and threat to European security," and effectively dared Lukashenko to say no. "Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice," he tweeted.