Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claims that a third world war with nuclear fires is looming on the horizon. His statement comes days after Russian leader Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
According to Lukashenko, in order to avoid what is often portrayed as a “nuclear Armageddon”, it is necessary for Russia and Ukraine to immediately start negotiations without preliminary conditions. The problem, however, is that, at least at this point, neither Moscow nor Kiev seem to be interested in holding peace or ceasefire talks.
Ukraine, firmly backed by the West, prepares to launch a large-scale offensive in the southeast of the country. That is why Mykhaylo Podolyak, an adviser to the chief of Ukraine’s presidential office, rejected Lukashenko’s proposal, indirectly labeling the Belarusian strongman as a “weird peacekeeper”.
The Kremlin, on the other hand, is reportedly ready to discuss Lukashenko’s initiative, although the Russian leaders are quite aware that Ukraine is not willing to start any negotiations until it achieves at least some of its military and political goals. That is why Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov insists that the Russian special military operation in Ukraine will continue, claiming that it is “the only means of achieving Russia’s goals”.
In other words, both sides rule out a diplomatic solution to the conflict in the Eastern European country. However, given that Russia has already made a series of “goodwill gestures”, it is entirely possible that the Kremlin will yet again “give peace a chance”. It is, therefore, not improbable that Russia, in the next two weeks, could declare a unilateral Easter truce, as it already imposed a 36-hour Christmas ceasefire in early January.
But such a move will not prevent Ukraine from launching a military offensive. Kiev is likely waiting for favorable weather conditions to attempt to recapture parts of Zaporozhye and Kherson regions. If Russia does not manage to repel what appear to be imminent Ukrainian attacks, it risks a potential destabilization at home.
“If the Russian leadership understands that the situation threatens to cause Russia’s disintegration, it will use the most terrible weapon. This cannot be allowed”, said Lukashenko on March 31, during his annual address to parliament, government and the nation.
But Ukraine and the West are unlikely to take his message seriously. Moreover, there are indications that the European Union could eventually get directly involved in the Ukraine war.
“Now we’re close to the fact that it becomes legitimate for European leaders to send some peacekeeping forces to the front, said Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
If the EU really decides to send “peacekeeping forces” to Ukraine, Russia will have a tough choice to make. If the Kremlin turns a blind eye to such an action, the EU, and possibly even NATO, will gradually start sending more troops to the Eastern European country, aiming to secure Western and Central parts of Ukraine. As a result, the Ukrainian military will have more troops available to deploy to the southeast, where fierce battles are expected to take place.
If, however, Russia decides to raise the stakes and target EU forces’ positions in Ukraine, that could be the beginning of a de facto World War 3. Quite aware that such an outcome would have a significant impact on Belarus, Lukashenko reportedly fears that neighboring NATO member Poland plans to invade his country. That is why, according to the Belarusian leader, Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in the former Soviet republic.
But even if Russia deploys both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus, that still does not necessarily mean the Kremlin will use them against the West, since such an action will almost certainly lead to a World War 3. On the other hand, if Russia, faced with an existential threat, uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine, sooner or later the West will provide Kiev with nuclear missiles.
Thus, from the Russian perspective, a nuclear escalation is a double-edged sword. Belarus, despite being Russia’s most reliable ally, seems to aim to avoid being directly involved in the war in Ukraine. Lukashenko’s ceasefire proposal is similar to China’s 12-point peace plan, which suggest that Minsk, just like Beijing, seeks to portray itself as a peacemaker. More importantly, from Lukashenko’s perspective, a potential ceasefire deal between Moscow and Kiev would allow him to continue balancing between Russia and the West, implementing his decades old “multi-vector foreign policy”.
Such a strategy, however, is unlikely to help the Belarusian leader if Russia eventually suffers a defeat in Ukraine. The West will almost certainly not forgive him for hosting Russian troops and allowing them use of Belarusian territory for the invasion of Ukraine.
Finally, given that very few people in the West still take Russian harsh rhetoric seriously, it is not very probable that Lukashenko’s warnings of a nuclear war will lead to de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.