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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
James Kilner, in Kyiv

West unites to condemn Putin for moving his nukes to Belarus

A Ukraine fan holds up a banner during his country's match against England in a European Championship qualifier at Wembley. Photo: Carl Recine/Reuters

The West has taken Vladimir Putin to task over his decision to send tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Less than 24 hours after Putin promised to move his nuclear arsenal closer to Europe and Ukraine, the US, Germany and Nato criticised the Kremlin’s attempt at “nuclear intimidation”.

With Russia’s forces facing another humiliation over the struggle to capture Bakhmut in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Putin is expected to intensify his nuclear brinkmanship.

Oleksiy Danilov, one of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top security advisers in Ukraine, claimed Russia’s plan would destabilise Belarus, which he said had become Moscow’s “nuclear hostage”.

Nato yesterday said it had yet to see “changes in Russia’s nuclear posture” to which it needed to react, but that Putin’s rhetoric was still “dangerous”.

“Nato is vigilant, and we are closely monitoring the situation,” said Oana Lungescu, a Nato spokesperson.

A US official earlier said Washington did not believe Russia was preparing to use a nuclear missile, referring to weapons with smaller blast yields meant for use on the battlefield rather than missiles capable of destroying whole cities.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned Brussels was ready to impose new sanctions on Belarus if Minsk were to host Russian nuclear weapons.

“Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security. Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The EU stands ready to respond with further sanctions,” he tweeted.

Though the decision to deploy Russian missiles in a foreign country for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union has heightened tensions, the Kremlin is already suspected of secretly stationing nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, its European enclave.

Putin sought to justify deploying nuclear missiles to Belarus by insisting that Russia would not be breaking any of its international obligations because it was only copying the US.

The US is thought to station nuclear missiles in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and in Turkey.

Belarus is a staunch ally of Russia and let Russian forces launch their invasion of Ukraine in February last year from its territory. The Belarus-Ukraine border is only 140km from Kyiv.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s president, has also allowed Russian warplanes to fire missiles at targets in Ukraine from Belarusian airspace.

Analysts have said that as well as being buoyed by Mr Xi’s visit last week, Putin’s nuclear rhetoric may reflect his frustration that, after a seven-month siege, Russian forces have still not been able to capture the whole of Bakhmut.

Meanwhile, Russian recruits are being offered the equivalent of €600 for every kilometre of ground they gain in Ukraine as part of a spring recruitment drive that aims to avoid another round of mobilisation.

Adverts offering recruits an array of benefits have appeared on government websites and on the social media accounts of state institutions such as libraries and high schools.

One of them, posted by a council in the Yaroslavl region, promised a one-time bonus of about €3,400 to sign up.

If the recruits were sent to Ukraine, the ad promised a monthly salary of up to €2,300, plus about €90 a day for “involvement in active offensive operations”, and €600 “for each kilometre of advancement within assault teams”.

The Kremlin is now desperately in need of recruits for its stalled war in Ukraine. 

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