Belarus Seeks to Amend Its Constitution to Host Russian Nuclear Weapons
Imagine being the guy who said Russia must regime-change Lukashenko
Related: Lukashenko: Russia May Return Its Missiles, I’ve Kept All the Nuclear Sites Intact — VIDEO
In December, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko went on Russian state television to offer to host Russian nuclear weapons on Belarus’s territory. This will be made possible by a little-noticed change to Belarus’s constitution set to come into effect on 27 February.
On 27 December 2021, Belarus published proposed changes to its constitution and submitted them for public comment. Their subsequent approval has paved the way for a 27 February 2022 referendum on the adoption of the new constitution. Other analysts have ably described the political changes, such as guaranteeing President Alexander Lukashenko’s power indefinitely, and limiting the power of parliament. Many have missed the headline, though: the new constitution would allow Belarus to host nuclear weapons on its territory for the first time since 1996. This change will help Lukashenko deliver on his offer to host Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil, which he had made to President Vladimir Putin a month earlier on Russian television.
Belarus did not formally announce the change to its nuclear status when it posted the changes to the constitution on the presidential website – indeed, as a deletion from the text, it was difficult to spot, because only the additions were highlighted. This is nevertheless a momentous development, calling into question Belarus’s observance of its obligations under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which codified its nuclear-weapons-free status under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The changes also eliminate the country’s neutrality, which had been part of its strategic posture since the end of the Cold War. Together, they have enormous implications for European security in the context of the current crisis around Ukraine.
Lukashenko met with Putin in Moscow on 9 September 2021 to discuss ‘integration processes within the Union State’.The two leaders kept in close contact, with five telephone conversations between September and November, culminating in the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State on 4 November, where Russia and Belarus approved their joint military doctrine.
Union State Military Doctrine, ladies and gentlemen
Many thanks to fellow journalist who told me where to look for it: https://t.co/jHytxLrXAv
Some Douglas Adams vibes though…
— Dmitry Stefanovich (@KomissarWhipla) February 4, 2022
This new military doctrine, which has not been made public [since then it has been made public], is reported to include greater integration between the two militaries, which probably requires the changes to Belarus’s neutrality and nuclear-free status to allow for potential Russian nuclear deployments to Belarusian territory. The Belarusian Constitutional Commission met on 15 November to discuss the scope of upcoming changes. Then, on 30 November, in an interview with Dmitry Kiselev, the director general of Russia Today, Lukashenko publicly recognised the ‘legality’ of Russia’s annexation of Crimea (something he had pointedly refused to do until then), and offered to host Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory:
I will offer Putin [the opportunity] to return nuclear weapons to Belarus
Lukashenko went on to say that most of Belarus’s former nuclear-weapons facilities, which used to house and launch Soviet SS-25 missiles, remain in place and are ready to host Russian nuclear weapons. The SS-25s, their warheads and the associated infrastructure were supposed to be removed in fulfilment of Belarus’s obligations under the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 – an agreement negotiated by Lukashenko’s predecessor as president, Stanislav Shushkevich, before being signed by Lukashenko in September 1994, shortly after he took office, under significant pressure from the United States and Russia. The work to denuclearise Belarus was carried out by the US under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known as the Nunn–Lugar Program, designed to safeguard and eliminate former Soviet nuclear weapons and related infrastructure.
The end of Belarus’s nuclear-weapon-free status
In the Russia Today interview, Lukashenko said he would never have given up Belarus’s right to nuclear weapons by signing the Budapest Memorandum if there had been any way to avoid doing so. Indeed, in April 1995, Lukashenko publicly threatened to keep the SS-25s in Belarus. Lukashenko said in the interview that Russia’s then-president Boris Yeltsin put him under personal pressure to comply and return the SS-25s to Russia. All the SS-25s and their nuclear warheads were returned by November 1996. Lukashenko went on to assert that in defiance of US pressure he put a stop to the destruction of the SS-25 storage and launch locations, sacrificing only one site. In reality, the US ended its work in Belarus in March 1997 in response to Belarusian human-rights violations, leaving 81 SS-25 launch sites intact.
Lukashenko’s dismissal of the Budapest Memorandum is a worrying development, but may indicate that he believes it constitutes a residual obligation preventing Belarus from ever hosting nuclear weapons again. It is therefore likely that Belarus will fully renounce the Budapest Memorandum sometime in the near future. In any case, Lukashenko has moved swiftly to remove the related restrictions from Belarus’s constitution. The current constitution(Article 18, paragraph 2) reads:
The Republic of Belarus aims to make its territory a nuclear-free zone, and to make the state neutral.
[Республика Беларусь ставит целью сделать свою территорию безъядерной зоной, а государство – нейтральным.]
The Republic of Belarus excludes military aggression against other states from its territory.
РеспубликаБеларусьисключаетвоеннуюагрессиюсосвоей территории в отношении других государств.]
Alexander… Si vis Pacem, para Bellum …………..
Since the Budapest Memorandum is a dead letter since 2013…putting sanctions on countries has sometimes unforeseen outcomes…