Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on March 25 that Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbor to the north. He claims to have been forced to do so by the UK’s decision to provide to Ukraine Challenger II tanks with armor-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium cores. Depleted uranium rounds do emit very low levels of radiation but cannot generate a nuclear reaction.
“Russia’s suggestion that this intended deployment is somehow justified because of the use of armor piercing ammunition is ludicrous,” said Robert Wood, United States Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs. “To state the obvious: armor piercing ammunition is in no way analogous to tactical nuclear weapons.”
“This announcement has nothing to do with an ammunition type,” he said. “Rather, it has everything to do with the Kremlin’s attempts to limit and deter international security assistance for Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. The reality is, the Kremlin doesn’t want Ukraine to possess the capability to defend itself against Russia’s tanks.”
“Less than a fortnight ago, President Putin committed in a joint statement with China to effectively reduce the risk of nuclear war, and cynically stated that “nuclear weapons states should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad and withdraw nuclear weapons deployed abroad,” said Ambassador Wood. Yet today, “The Kremlin is attempting to manipulate the specter of nuclear conflict to help win its illegal war against Ukraine.”
“No country is threatening Russia or threatening President Putin. Putin’s war against Ukraine is one he never should have started. And one the Kremlin could end in a moment if it chooses,” he said.
“Through completely irresponsible rhetoric and continued disinformation – Russia seeks to escalate its unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine – rather than to seek peace,” said Ambassador Wood.
“Russia should immediately cease escalatory rhetoric around the potential use of nuclear weapons,” he said. “Any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine would have severe consequences for the maintenance of international peace and security and would fundamentally change the nature of this war. And any use of nuclear weapons, would break the record of non-use of such weapons that has held for nearly 80 years.”
“We also call on the [Aleksander] Lukashenka regime [in Belarus] to cease its complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine,” said Ambassador Wood. “And we again, call on Russia to de-escalate starting with the cessation of its war of aggression against Ukraine.”