NATO’s verbal response to Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was predictable. Alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu labeled it ‘dangerous and provocative.’ She then stated that there has been no change in Russian nuclear posture, meaning there is no need for NATO to adjust its own. The US government’s reply was along similar lines.
On Saturday during a TV interview, Vladimir Putin announced his plan to store tactical nuclear weapons on Belarussian soil. The Russian president pointed out this move will violate no nuclear nonproliferation agreements since Russia will retain control of the warheads. He also compared the decision to how the United States deployment of nuclear weapons in Europe and there are some similarities between the methods. However, the primary difference rests with delivery systems. The US and Russia have aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons in close proximity to the weapon storage sites. But along with this, Russia already has a number of SS-26 Stone (Iskander M to the amateurs) short range ballistic missiles based in Belarus. These missiles can also easily be used as delivery vehicles for tactical nuclear weapons.
It comes as no surprise that Ukraine has been quite vocal on the move, accusing Moscow of making Belarus a ‘nuclear hostage.’ As far as the nuclear threat to Ukraine is concerned though, a limited Russian deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus does not raise the threat posed to Ukraine. Moscow’s decision is aimed more at NATO and the West, intended to serve as message, perhaps, that the continued arming and supplying of Ukraine could hold significant consequences.
We’re seeing an active end of the week around the world. Tit-for-tat exchange between US forces and Iranian proxies in Syria, the worsening condition of Deutsche Bank and Taiwan has lost a diplomatic ally to China days before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen heads to Central America and the US. On Sunday one or two of these topics will be looked at briefly.
For today, the South China Sea beckons. On Thursday, China’s Southern Theater Command released a statement claiming that the Chinese military had driven a US Navy destroyer away from operating in close proximity to the disputed Paracel Islands. The US 7th Fleet labeled the claim as ‘false.’ According to a fleet spokesperson, “USS Milius (DDG 69) is conducting routine Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled.” It was not revealed how close Milius was to the Parcels.
China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, though the United States and nations in the region do not recognize the claims. The latest revision to the claims by the Chinese government states that China has the right to enclose the waters around four Chinese-occupied island groups with straight baselines, extending the territorial reach beyond the 12 mile limit recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This goes beyond the historical ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ claim to China’s ownership in the South China Sea (SCS).
Territorial disputes in the SCS are common with multiple nations laying claim to the same reefs and islands in resource rich areas of the sea. In fact, talks are underway at present between Chinese and Philippine officials over the territorial disputes between the two nations. China’s growing aggressiveness and alleged incursions have led to these talks. In February a Philippine coast guard vessel was hit by green laser beams coming from a Chinese coast guard ship.
From Beijing’s point of view, China has become the dominant force in the SCS. The lack of pushback by the United States in earlier years as China constructed new military installations in the waters has unfortunately served to embolden China’s assertiveness in recent years. Now, as the US is growing more focused on containing and pushing back Chinese moves across the Western Pacific, Washington is realizing it is at a significant disadvantage in the SCS as the current situation stands.
Xi Jinping has left Moscow, bringing an end to a visit which was watched closely from Kiev to Washington. Surprisingly, there appears to be a growing consensus in some media and geopolitical circles that the Xi-Putin meetings will not result in in concrete changes to the Sino-Russian relationship, or China’s position regarding the war in Ukraine. Based on public statements and the slivers of information emanating from behind closed doors these thoughts are nothing beyond the obvious. The real decisions were made behind closed doors between Monday and Thursday and just what they were will only become clear as time goes on.
First off, the strategic relationship between China and Russia is almost certainly now solidified in a junior-senior partner dynamic. As the senior partner, it is in Beijing’s best interests to keep Russia afloat in the war for an extended period of time. Or, as an alternative, press for peace talks resulting in a short-term ceasefire at the very least. China’s peace plan is very popular in the Kremlin but has hardly gained a second look in Kiev or the West. To be blunt, the plan is anything but fair and if agreed to by all parties and implemented, would see Russia keep possession of the territory it has gained so far in the war. Should Ukraine and the West formally reject China’s attempt at playing peacemaker, this opens the door for China to supply Russia with military equipment and material.
More disconcerting, it will also pave the way for China to start laying the foundation for its own geopolitical and military moves in the Western Pacific and beyond.
Author’s Note: Short post today. Free time slipped away a bit. I’m considering starting up a substack for DIRT to have a place where I can post in-depth analysis, while keeping this blog mostly for shorter briefs and updates. I’ll be sure to keep readers in the loop. –Mike
Over twelve European Union member-states have come together and pledged to supply Ukraine with at least 1 million artillery shells over the next calendar year. The plan was put together and agreed to on Monday in Brussels. The Ukrainian government has told the EU it needs to use 350,000 artillery rounds each month to keep the Russians from gaining more ground, as well as prepare Ukrainian forces for a counteroffensive at some point later this year. The Ukrainian foreign minister called the EU decision a ‘game changer.’
The first phase of the EU plan is for member-states to draw from their current stockpiles with the target goal of sending this to Ukraine by May. €1Billion has been committed for this phase. Phase Two will see an additional €1Billion allocated to jointly order 155mm rounds for Ukraine. These are the rounds Ukraine uses the most. The terms of the deal will require participating nations to share information about their ammunition stockpiles with the EU and other member-states taking part in the plan. This move is unprecedented and could cause problems in the future as accurate ammunition numbers are generally considered secret in nearly all European nations.
More intriguing is the motivation behind the EU plan. Instead of working to train the Ukrainian military to improve its fire discipline the EU has instead decided to feed Ukraine’s infinite appetite for artillery rounds. The problem is that Europe’s overall supply of available artillery rounds is finite, and so is its production ability. The United States has seen the writing on the wall and recognized it cannot meet Ukraine’s ammunition demands. Earlier this month the Pentagon announced it will be retraining Ukrainian troops to conserve their artillery rounds and use them more effectively. The US shift makes sense and puts Ukraine on notice that it cannot continue to recklessly expend ammunition the way it as.
The EU on the other hand, appears to be rather short-sighted with its newest plan and appears to be banking on a lengthy ceasefire coming about by the start of the summer.
Xi Jinping is set to arrive in Moscow on Monday with the weight of China’s foreign policy ambitions weighing on his shoulders. The visit to Russia comes as the war in Ukraine continues on with no end in sight, the International Criminal Court has announced it intends to put Vladimir Putin on trial for alleged war crimes and China is ambitiously seeking to expand its global role. Should Xi play his cards right, he could walk away from Moscow on Wednesday in a strong position to influence and perhaps bring about an acceptable end to the war. Acceptable to China and Russia that is.
Russian officials have voiced hope that Xi’s visit will result in new approaches to the war being found. Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov said, “I’m sure that our leader and the Chinese leader will exchange their assessments of the situation. We shall see what ideas will emerge after that.” China’s proposal for a ceasefire and negotiations was warmly received in Moscow last month. Ukraine welcomed China’s involvement but went no farther.
It could be difficult if not impossible to ignore China’s growing presence and influence, however. After successfully brokering a restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Xi is looking to position China to play a greater role in managing global affairs. It would not come as a shock if Xi laid out a new ceasefire proposal while in Moscow or offered to mediate talks between the Russian and Ukrainian governments aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement to the war. China playing the part of peacemaker is in contradiction to its position on territorial integrity. Specifically, concerning Taiwan. The Taiwan matter could prevent any future Chinese peace proposals from being taken seriously by Kiev or the West.