A Belgian military expert has downplayed the significance of Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent decision to station nuclear missiles in Belarus, claiming instead that the deployment constitutes part of a larger "propaganda war" between Russia and the West.
Speaking to De Morgen, Professor of Military History Kris Quanten of Belgium's Royal Military School further suggested that, by stationing nukes on the territory of Moscow's closest ally, Putin is attempting to drive a wedge between Western supporters of Ukraine and strike fear into the hearts and minds of Western citizens.
"Any announcement about nuclear weapons is worrying and should be taken seriously," Quanten said. "But this announcement is also a very clear attempt by Putin to pry the West apart at a strategic level: we are terrified at the possible deployment of nuclear weapons, we feel we are directly involved in this. Putin is using every opportunity to keep that pressure alive."
He added: "In fact, [Putin's decision] changes nothing: whether Putin puts nuclear weapons in Russia or in Belarus, the threat remains the same. But the West is talking about it, and Putin is creating the perception that the threat is getting closer and more concrete, while distance plays no role at all with nuclear weapons."
Putin's announcement also contradicts a joint statement by China and Russia during their bilateral meeting last week, stating that both parties were "convinced that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be unleashed," as reported by the Russian media TASS.
A 'propaganda war'
During the interview, Quanten elaborated on his view that the ongoing war in Ukraine is being fought at the informational level as well as on the battlefield.
"I see this as a propaganda war aimed at Putin's own audience in Russia: 'We should not let ourselves be fooled,'" he explained. "But it is also an important message from Putin to the West: 'Watch what you are doing.' The United Kingdom has committed to supply Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine [tanks which are equipped with shells containing depleted uranium]. The Russian President is reacting disproportionately to this, and is now installing tactical weapons in Belarus."
Quanten also spoke about the "great need" to supply Ukraine with effective battlefield drones given a "possibly imminent" Russian spring counteroffensive, and provided interesting commentary on the much-discussed problem of providing Ukraine with adequate supplies of ammunition.
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"The US has a problem with ammunition supplies," he said. "The Americans have been draining strategic reserves in South Korea and Israel for several weeks. Republicans believe that the current rhythm of arms supplies and financial support cannot continue indefinitely. It's a war of attrition."
"President Biden also knows this is a problem. That explains his attitude: he does not give Zelenskyy a carte blanche. Biden clearly wants a long-term agreement, which he is in favour of. Make no mistake: American arms supplies are still going very well. They provide an umbilical cord for Zelenskyy. But Zelenskyy also knows that he needs to become more autonomous. And with tactical drones, he can make a difference."