Finnish government announces it will send weapons to Ukraine

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shows it in this file photo from February 18, 2022. (Sergey Guneev/Sputnik/AP)

On Sunday, Russia’s close ally Belarus held a referendum whose outcome – in theory – opens the door for the former Soviet republic to host nuclear weapons.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, newly independent states in addition to Russia appeared on the map with nuclear weapons stationed on their territory: Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The prospect of three new nuclear-armed countries alarmed world leaders, and with the signing of the Budapest Memorandum in 1994, all three agreed to give up their nuclear arsenals in exchange for security guarantees.

Voting in a referendum to approve a new constitution allows Belarus to shed its non-nuclear status. But does that mean he can acquire nuclear weapons? After all, the country does not have a weapons complex to design, build or test nuclear weapons.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko seems to be hinting at something else: stationing Russian warheads on Belarusian soil.

Speaking to reporters at a polling station in Minsk on Sunday, Lukashenko said he could ask his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “return the nuclear weapons” that Belarus officially gave up when his country signed the Budapest memorandum. .

“If America, or you France, two nuclear powers, start transferring nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, on our borders… I will go to Putin to give me back the nuclear weapons that I , without special conditions, gave them,” Lukashenko said.

Poland and Lithuania do not possess nuclear weapons.

It is unclear what plans Russia might have, in practice. But it should be noted that days before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko sat in the Kremlin situation center with Putin to observe nuclear exercises, watching the launch of a series of missiles at different test ranges.

There are several layers of irony in the nuclear rhetoric about Belarus. In laying out his case for invading Ukraine, Putin made an unsubstantiated claim about supposed Ukrainian aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, which the Kremlin leader called an existential threat.

And it bears recalling that Ukraine gave up its own nuclear stockpile in exchange for security guarantees to its territorial integrity from several countries – including Russia – which Putin has now broken.

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