Putin confirms nukes in Belarus, US slates Russian sabre-rattling

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the West is doing everything to inflict strategic defeat on Moscow in Ukraine.

In this handout photo provided by Photo host Agency RIA Novosti, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 16, 2023. (Alexei Danichev/Photo host Agency RIA Novosti via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a plenary session of the International Economic Forum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Friday, June 16, 2023 [Alexei Danichev/RIA Novosti via AP]

The United States has made no adjustments to its nuclear posture following Russia’s deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus and denounced comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow could “theoretically” use nuclear weapons if there was a threat to its territorial integrity or existence.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that Washington had not changed its nuclear stance as Putin confirmed for the first time that Russia had placed nuclear arms in Belarus.

“We have no reason to adjust our own nuclear posture. We don’t see any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said.

Blinken said it was “ironic” that Putin had placed Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus when the Russian leader had justified his invasion of Ukraine on the basis that he wanted to prevent Kyiv from obtaining such weapons.

Speaking at Russia’s annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg on Friday, Putin said Russian tactical nuclear warheads had already been delivered to close ally Belarus, but stressed he saw no need for Russia to resort to nuclear weapons for now.

“The first nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus. But only the first ones, the first part. But we will do this job completely by the end of the summer or by the end of the year,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said the deployment of the warheads – the first outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union – was intended as a warning to the West about arming and supporting Ukraine. The West, he said, was doing everything it could to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia in Ukraine.

“It is precisely as an element of deterrence so that all those who are thinking about inflicting a strategic defeat on us are not oblivious to this circumstance,” Putin said.

But, for now, Russia had no need to resort to nuclear weapons, he said, adding that talks with the West to reduce Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal were a non-starter.

“Nuclear weapons have been made to ensure our security in the broadest sense of the word and the existence of the Russian state, but we … have no such need [to use them],” Putin said.

“Just talking about this [the potential use of nuclear weapons] lowers the nuclear threshold. We have more than NATO countries, and they want to reduce our numbers. Screw them,” he said.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank, said on Friday that Moscow’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus is part of longstanding efforts to “cement Russia’s de facto military control over Belarus” but is unlikely to herald a Russian escalation.

‘You can’t fight like that for long’

Striking a defiant tone on his war in Ukraine, the Russian leader said that Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Russian forces had no meaningful success so far and Ukraine’s forces were suffering heavy losses and would soon run out of their own military equipment, making them totally reliant on hardware supplied by the West.

“There’s nothing left. Everything on which they fight and everything that they use is brought in from the outside. Well, you can’t fight like that for long,” he said.

Focusing on Western-supplied armour such as German-made Leopard tanks, Putin said they were being destroyed regularly by his forces and if Kyiv acquired US-made F-16 fighter jets from its allies, they too would go up in flames. He also appeared to hint that Russia would target such fighter planes in locations outside Ukraine.

“If they will be stationed outside Ukraine and used in combat operations, we will have to look at how to engage and where to engage those assets being used in combat operations against us,” he said.

Targeting F-16 aircraft outside Ukraine presented “a serious danger” of dragging NATO further into the conflict, he added.

Later on Friday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that every metre of Ukrainian territory recaptured from Russian forces was “of the utmost importance” during the current counteroffensive operation.

“Every soldier, every new step we take, every metre of Ukrainian land freed from the enemy is of utmost importance,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address after meeting top military commanders.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said earlier that troops were “engaged in active moves to advance in several directions at once” along the front line; and in the south, troops had advanced up to 2km (1.3 miles) “in each direction”.

In Ukraine’s east, Maliar said Russian forces were trying to dislodge Ukrainian forces from established positions, while Ukrainian forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut were trying to push Russian forces out from the outskirts of the town.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies