Former national security adviser John Bolton on Monday said Russian President Vladimir Putin “may not be bluffing” about his plans to move nuclear weapons into neighboring Belarus as Moscow’s war on Ukraine stretches into its second year. Putin’s threat to station the weapons in Belarus has been condemned by the U.S. and NATO – and Ukraine has called the move “nuclear blackmail.”
“Well, I think he’s been bluffing when he’s tried to rattle the nuclear saber before. He may not be bluffing here in the sense he may actually move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, which is its own separate problem” Bolton said of Putin on “CNN This Morning.”
He raised the concern that Belarus, which was once part of the Soviet Union, could potentially be reabsorbed into Russia, calling the possibility “something I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to.” “But militarily, even if he did that, it really wouldn’t make that much difference in my view, because of what we know are extensive nuclear supplies, missiles, cruise missiles, drones and warheads, in Kaliningrad, an exclave, a piece of Russia that’s separated from Russia itself by Lithuania and Poland,” Bolton said.
That’s a place which has long been basically a Russian military facility going back to Soviet Union days,” Bolton said. “So the capabilities Russia already has in the Kaliningrad enclave are the ones that could be most threatening. I don’t think the idea of moving some tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus changes that balance.”
Bolton noted missiles had already been in Kaliningrad in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a Soviet-era arms control pact with Russia that the U.S. withdrew from back in 2018. Putin said over the weekend that stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus would not violate international nonproliferation agreements because Moscow would retain control of the weapons. He added that Russia will complete construction of a storage facility for the weapons by July 1, and has already stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nukes.
Putin’s rhetoric around nuclear weapons during Russia’s war on Ukraine have fueled fears about the risks of escalation, particularly is the Russian leader becomes desperate amid continued losses on the ground. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the U.S. has not seen “any indication” that Putin has “made good on this pledge or moved any nuclear weapons around.”
“We’ve in- in fact seen no indication that he has any intention to use nuclear weapons, period, inside Ukraine,” Kirby added.