Nuclear weapons in Belarus create a situation of irreversibility in relations with the West.
On 24-25 May, Moscow hosted the II Eurasian Economic Forum and a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. The events followed the standard, traditional pattern. Addresses by the leaders of the member states looked like declarations of intent; they called for more active integration and even closer economic cooperation. Lukashenka spoke about the need to turn the Eurasian Union into a world centre, contrary to the West. Nothing new.
Although, there is something new in the EEU activities. However, the leaders did not discuss it publicly. Last year, the Eurasian Union acquired a new function. The EEU became a convenient mechanism for smuggling subsanctioned goods to Russia.
But a highlight of the day was the commencement of the process of nuclear weapons deployment in Belarus.
Let me remind you that on 25 March Putin announced his decision to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus and his intention to build a storage facility there by 1 July. At that time, many experts considered it a bluff, an information attack aimed at intimidating the West. Interestingly, on May 16, Belarus' official representative to the United Nations Valentin Rybakov virtually corroborated this version, saying: "As for the announcements of the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. First of all, these are just statements. Nothing has been done in this direction from the practical point of view".
But exactly two months later, May 25, the nuclear weapons story suddenly changed direction. That day in Minsk, the defense ministers of Belarus and Russia, Viktor Khrenin and Sergei Shoigu, signed documents defining the procedure for keeping Russian non-strategic nuclear weapons in a special storage facility in Belarus.
Lukashenka had to refer to this topic when answering questions from journalists in Moscow. He said he discussed the issue with the Russian president during the Eurasian Forum:
"It was about the fact that he informed me that he had signed a decree on our actions on the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus. That is, it was about a specific document. A decision was taken to develop what was said".
So, let's fix this point. Putin signs the document on the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus and only then informs Lukashenka about it, presents with a fait accompli. He is not asked for his consent. The most important strategic issue of the national security of Belarus is solved in Moscow without participation of Belarus, without Lukashenka.
And then follows an equally revealing dialogue between Lukashenka and a journalist:
Lukashenka: "The relocation of nuclear ammunition has begun."
Reporter: "It has already started? Are they (nuclear weapons - BELTA's note) already in Belarus?"
Lukashenka: "Perhaps. I will arrive there and have a look".
Thus, the situation is phenomenal. Lukashenka admits that he does not know whether Russia has deployed nuclear weapons in Belarus or not yet. Who, in that case, is the real master in the country?
I think we will not learn all the details of this process, we will not understand where is a bluff and where is reality. Anyway, the documents signed in Minsk and the official announcement of the practical implementation of the announced decision change a lot and will have significant political consequences for Belarus.
The deployment of nuclear weapons on the Belarusian territory is an additional mechanism of military and political control of the Russian Federation over Belarus. Belarus' military dependence on Russia increases radically, narrowing the country's sovereignty in the field of defense. Moscow has a new tool to influence the Belarusian regime, which can be used to draw our country into a war against its wishes.
Lukashenka, by calling on Russia to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, expected that this would raise his political weight, guarantee security, and become another lever to put pressure on the West. In fact, it may be the other way round. For Russia, Belarus is now not so much a sovereign state, but the territory that deploys Russian nuclear weapons. And foreign states will consider Belarus as a country with limited sovereignty. I think there's a reason for the trolling by Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at the Eurasian Economic Forum. He said Belarus and Russia have become one nation - one state, and even "nuclear weapons are one for two now".
The deployment of Russian nuclear warheads in Belarus ties the political fate of the two regimes even more closely. Now it will be much more difficult to distance oneself from Moscow, to say that we are not involved in the war, we stand for peace, much less to offer the role of peacekeeper.
Lukashenka, when agreeing to this step, might have supposed that the status of Belarus as a nuclear power would increase his bargaining power in relations with the West. However, the opposite is more likely. Nuclear weapons in Belarus brings irreversibility in relations with the West, burning down the remaining bridges. From the point of view of Western politicians, the Lukashenka regime is becoming much more toxic and non-self-governing than before. Itich may entail new sanctions.
In any case, the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus may become a fatal step both for the ruling regime and for Belarus. And Lukashenka has another historic mission: to make Belarus a target for a nuclear strike.
As for the outcome of Lukashenka's visit to Moscow. On 22 May, he received a report from Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Dzmitry Krutoy. They discussed the problems of economic cooperation between the two countries. Lukashenka said: "I can see from the situation that there are problems, some inconsistencies. Sometimes there is red tape. Whose fault is that? So, if we meet with Russian President Putin the day after tomorrow in Moscow, we can discuss the problems and remove them". Thus, Lukashenka was expecting full-fledged negotiations with the Russian leader during his visit to Moscow on May 24-25 for the II Eurasian Economic Forum and the Eurasian Economic Union Summit.
There is no doubt that Putin and Lukashenka talked on the sidelines of the events in Moscow. But were there full-fledged negotiations? Lukashenka's press service's Telegram channel, Pool Pervogo, reported:
"At the end of the working lunch, Lukashenka and Putin had another one-on-one chat. Naturally, behind closed doors."
But there was no confirmation of this fact from the Russian side. The website of the Russian president reported that he met with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia in the evening of May 25. No mention is made of a meeting with Lukashenka.
Valery Karbalevich, Svobodnye Novosti