Risk of Nuclear Weapons Use Higher Than at Any Time Since Cold War, Disarmament Affairs Chief Warns Security Council
Many Speakers Condemn Russian Federation’s Dangerous Rhetoric, Veiled Threats
The Russian Federation’s recent announcement of plans to station non-strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus represents the first “nuclear sharing” agreement made since the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons entered into force in 1970, the senior United Nations disarmament official told the Security Council today, emphasizing that — against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict — the risk such arms will be used is higher today than at any time since the end of the cold war.
Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, reported that on 25 March, Moscow announced its agreement with Minsk to station its non-strategic nuclear weapons in Belarus. “I wish to be clear at the outset — all States must avoid taking any actions that could lead to escalation, mistake or miscalculation,” she stressed, adding that all States parties must strictly adhere to their obligations under the landmark Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is also known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
While the issue of the hosting by a non-nuclear-weapon State of a nuclear-weapon State’s nuclear arms is one that has existed for decades, she said all such arrangements predate the Non-Proliferation Treaty — “with the exception of the recent announcement [by the Russian Federation]”. Stressing that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is currently higher than at any time since the depths of the cold war, she said the war in Ukraine represents “the most acute example of that risk”. The absence of dialogue and the erosion of the disarmament and arms control architecture, combined with dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats, are key drivers of this potentially existential risk, she added.
As Council members took the floor, the representative of the United States described the Russian Federation’s suggestion that its intention to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus is somehow justified as “ludicrous”. The 25 March announcement was not about nuclear burden-sharing, as some have claimed, and there is no credible reason for Moscow to station nuclear weapons in Belarus. Rather, he stressed that “the Kremlin is attempting to manipulate the spectre of nuclear conflict to help win its illegal war against Ukraine, while it further tramples on the UN Charter”. He called on Moscow to cease its war of aggression against Ukraine and on the regime of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko to cease its complicity.
Albania’s representative said that the latest provocative announcement by the Russian Federation that it plans to transfer tactical nuclear weapons to another country would, at any time, be troubling news; however, in the context of that country’s war of aggression against Ukraine, it is “a clear and irresponsible threat”. Emphasizing Moscow’s lack of respect for international commitments, he turned to Belarus’ role in recent developments, noting that its citizens will judge whether the change in its nuclear policy will make them more secure or “just turn their country into a nuclear hostage, becoming more and more a Russian appendix”.
The representative of Japan joined other speakers in condemning Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s recent announcement, adding that Moscow is abusing its status as a nuclear-weapons State with its irresponsible rhetoric. As the only country that has ever suffered atomic bombings during war, Japan is strongly committed to leading international efforts towards a world without nuclear weapons. “The record of 77 years of non-use of nuclear weapons must not be broken by Russia,” he stressed, calling on all Member States to renew their commitment to the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime.
Ukraine’s representative said the movement of nuclear weapons to Belarussian soil is a matter of concern for the entire international community. Noting that “nuclear blackmail” is a tool the Russian Federation has exploited since the start of the war — along with threats of attacks at nuclear power facilities — he said that, in contrast, Ukraine has always been a responsible member of the international community, having fully abandoned the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. By its recent actions, the Russian Federation is indicating once again that it regards nuclear weapons as tools of threats and intimidation, not deterrence, he said, declaring: “The Kremlin is ready to threaten the world with nuclear apocalypse.”
Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation said recent years have seen a severe erosion of the global security architecture and noted efforts by the United States and its allies — “those that proclaim themselves victors in the cold war” — to systematically dismantle key arms-control agreements and confidence-building structures. Also citing the United States decisions over recent years to withdraw from several strategic security agreements, he said President Putin has made clear that Moscow is not transferring nuclear weapons. Rather, “we are talking about” the transfer of tactical missile systems, the retrofitting of Belarusian aircraft, the training of teams and the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he said.
Striking a similar tone, the delegate of Belarus said his country has been a consistent advocate for nuclear disarmament, recalling its conscious choice in 1993 to renounce nuclear weapons and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty — making it the first post-Soviet State to refuse the possession of such arms without preconditions. Citing trade and banking bans, as well as other restrictions, recently imposed on his country by some other States — a “direct, gross interference” into its domestic affairs — he said Belarus is taking actions to shore up its own defensive capacity, in line with international law, in response to legitimate security concerns.
The representative of Brazil said nuclear disarmament seems to have gone into reverse since the 2020 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. All nuclear-weapons States are upgrading their arsenals, either quantitatively or qualitatively, or both. Brazil has long maintained that any nuclear sharing arrangement is inconsistent with Articles I and II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he stressed, voicing concern about any such arrangements — including those by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries — and emphasized that “two wrongs do not make a right”.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Switzerland, Gabon, China, Malta, United Kingdom, Ghana, Ecuador, United Arab Emirates, France, Mozambique, Poland and Estonia (speaking also on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania).
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, also participated.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:13 p.m.
IZUMI NAKAMITSU, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, reported that on 25 March, the Russian Federation announced that it reached an agreement with Minsk to station its non-strategic nuclear weapons in Belarusian territory. “I wish to be clear at the outset — all States must avoid taking any actions that could lead to escalation, mistake or miscalculation,” she stressed. All States parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, must strictly adhere to their commitments and obligations under that instrument. She emphasized that the fulfilment of those commitments lies at the core of the maintenance of international peace and security, adding that the elimination of nuclear weapons remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations and a goal to which all its Member States remain committed.
The issue of the hosting by a non-nuclear weapon State of a nuclear-weapon State’s nuclear weapons is one that has existed for decades, she continued. Such arrangements predate the Non-Proliferation Treaty, “with the exception of the recent announcement [by the Russian Federation]”. The issue of so-called “nuclear sharing” was debated intensely during the negotiation of the that Treaty, and has been the subject of subsequent discussions, including at the Treaty’s Review Conferences. States parties’ have taken different positions and interpretations on that issue, and those positions are well-known to all.
Emphasizing that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is currently higher than at any time since the depths of the cold war, she said the war in Ukraine represents “the most acute example of that risk”. The absence of dialogue and the erosion of the disarmament and arms control architecture, combined with dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats, are key drivers of this potentially existential risk. Calling on States to return to dialogue to urgently de-escalate tensions, she said that, for the sake of human security, the Russian Federation and the United States should return to full implementation of the New Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) Treaty and commence negotiations on its successor. She also appealed to all States parties of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to fully adhere to their obligations and immediately engage in serious efforts to reduce nuclear risk and de-escalate tensions.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said that the latest provocative announcement by the Russian Federation to transfer tactical nuclear weapons to another country would, at any time, be troubling news; however, in the context of that country’s war of aggression against Ukraine, it is “a clear and irresponsible threat”. Such actions are coherent with the Russian Federation’s persistent, stubborn course of actions from February 2022 onwards, when it placed its nuclear weapons on “war alert”, to the suspension of its obligations under the New START Treaty in February 2023, which threaten its neighbours and endanger regional and global stability. Saying that the Russian Federation does not respect its commitments is “just an understatement”, he stressed, pointing to its lack of respect for the Charter of the United Nations, violations of international law since the start of the conflict and its paying no heed to the call of the International Court of Justice to halt its invasion of Ukraine. Turning to Belarus’ role in these developments, he noted that its citizens would judge whether this change in its nuclear policy will make them more secure or “just turn their country into a nuclear hostage, becoming more and more a Russian appendix”. Such behaviour is meant to instil fear among the European public, he said, calling “laughable” Belarus’ justification that it needs such weapons to protect itself against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Russian Federation’s actions contribute to proliferation, which contradicts its role as a permanent member of the Council.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) underscored that the Russian Federation’s suggestion that its intended deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus is somehow justified because of the use of armour-piercing ammunition is “ludicrous”. The announced deployment has nothing to do with such ammunition — which has been in use for decades and is possessed by Moscow itself — but has everything to do with the Kremlin’s attempts to limit or deter international security assistance for Ukraine. He went on to point out that, while Moscow does not want Ukraine to be able to defend itself against Russian tanks, the reality is that “Russian tanks would not come into contact with these armour-piercing munitions if Russian tanks were not within Ukraine’s sovereign territory in the first place”. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin’s 25 March announcement was not about nuclear burden-sharing, as there is no credible reason for Moscow to station nuclear weapons in Belarus. Rather, he stressed that “the Kremlin is attempting to manipulate the spectre of nuclear conflict to help win its illegal war against Ukraine while it further tramples on the UN Charter”. He therefore called on the Russian Federation to cease its war of aggression against Ukraine, and on the Lukashenko regime to cease its complicity in the same.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) stressed that statements regarding the intention to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus are particularly troubling when they come from a party to an international armed conflict. If the Russian Federation were to establish a nuclear sharing system, this would contradict its repeated condemnations of this practice and raise questions regarding its commitment to implement measures leading to nuclear disarmament. All nuclear-weapon States are required to advance disarmament and reduce nuclear risks, he reminded, calling also on Belarus to show responsibility by refraining from hosting such arms on its territory. As any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences and risk uncontrolled escalation — whether intentionally or through miscalculation, misunderstanding or accident — and must be avoided. In that regard, Switzerland calls on all States with nuclear weapons to reduce their role in military and security doctrines; work towards nuclear disarmament as well as the reduction of any associated risks; and strengthen the Council’s role and responsibility. All parties to the New START Treaty must also redouble their efforts to conclude a new agreement before its expiration in 2026, he added.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said the rhetoric of using nuclear weapons makes the world feel worse, especially the people most directly affected by this war. It also goes against the international goals of disarmament and the goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. “It is a step back from making the world more secure,” he said. It also sends a contradictory statement to countries without nuclear weapons. Making nuclear weapons acceptable is dangerous for humankind. His delegation never supports the use, or the threat of use, of nuclear weapons. He affirmed his delegation’s opposition to this absurd war that has lasted for far too long. The Council must be an epicentre of new ideas to find solutions and bring peace and security to Ukraine. All countries must respect international humanitarian law and refrain from any escalating actions. It is unacceptable to threaten the use of nuclear weapons. “The channels of diplomacy must replace the use of force,” he said.
GENG SHUANG (China) said nuclear weapons are the “sword of Damocles hanging over our head”. Since its first day as a possessor of such weapons, China has honoured the pledge of non-first use under any circumstances and has committed unconditionally not to use such weapons against any non-nuclear-weapons States or zones — the only nuclear weapons-possessing State to have done so. China supports the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the gradual, complete elimination of nuclear weapons. He called for the abolition of nuclear-sharing arrangements, as well as for the withdrawal of all such weapons deployed abroad. In 2002, five nuclear-weapon States reaffirmed that none of their nuclear weapons are targeted at each other, or at any non-nuclear-weapons States. Urging all nuclear weapons possessors to abide strictly by that statement and avoid any conflict between them, he added that China’s position on Ukraine is clear and consistent. It has put forward a proposal for a political settlement, which rejects any attacks against nuclear weapons facilities or power plants, and stresses that “nuclear wars must not be fought”. He reiterated that dialogue towards a political settlement should happen “sooner than later” and called for the urgent resumption of dialogue.
DARREN CAMILLERI (Malta), affirming his country’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament and to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said the world has held its breath since the start of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine just over a year ago as it conducts reckless military activity within and around Ukraine’s civilian nuclear facilities and continues to occupy Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, creating a significant risk of a radiological incident. Moscow has wielded nuclear threats against its neighbour, a non-nuclear-weapon State that voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal almost 30 years ago, he said, adding: “Ukraine did this in good faith and in exchange for security assurances from Russia, assurances which have been betrayed.” Recalling that, at the start of 2022, the five permanent members of the Council, including the Russian Federation, declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, he pointed out that that country’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric contradicts this declaration”. He urged Minsk to understand the repercussions of its actions if it chose to accommodate Moscow’s plans, pointing out that the storage or deployment of the Russian Federation’s nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory would raise nuclear tensions and drastically increase the possibility of an escalation to nuclear war. “Such risks are unacceptable. They should never be considered, let alone taken,” he stressed.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom), noting that no other country has raised the prospect of nuclear use in the conflict against Ukraine, emphasized that no one is threatening the Russian Federation’s sovereignty. Rather, it is Moscow who has violated the Charter of the United Nations by invading another sovereign country. Mr. Putin’s 25 March announcement is his latest attempt to intimate and coerce, he said, stressing that “this has not worked and will not work — we will continue to support Ukraine to defend itself.” That leader’s claim — that the trigger for this announcement was London supplying depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine alongside challenger tanks — is yet another example of a deliberate attempt to mislead. The Russian Federation is well aware that this is conventional ammunition and not nuclear munitions, he underscored before spotlighting that Government’s steady undermining of the arms control architecture, its persistent violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and its suspended participation in the New START Treaty. He then called on Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko — who has made no secret of his wish to see Moscow base nuclear weapons in his country — to stop enabling the Russian Federation’s reckless and escalatory actions.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) reiterated his delegation’s principled position that the ongoing aggression is a serious violation of international law and contradicts the prohibition against the use of force under article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations. While the Ukrainian people bear the primary brunt of this brutal war, the war’s repercussions are reverberating far beyond the borders of Ukraine. Many countries in the Global South are greatly concerned about the situation and the global economic system’s incapacity to respond to their overwhelming needs. The ongoing war is undermining relations between States and creating disruptive and undesirable consequences. His delegation has always stood against the possession of nuclear weapons and opposes emerging strategic doctrines for the modernization of arsenals. “All of us should be aware of the danger that arises when we blur the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and the abyss it can drive the world into,” he said. “We must pull back and change course.” He advocated for the peaceful settlement of disputes through the pursuit of negotiations on the basis of the Charter and international law.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that recent years have seen severe erosion of the global security architecture, noting efforts by the United States and its allies — “those that proclaim themselves victors in the cold war” — to systematically dismantle key arms-control agreements and confidence-building structures. This was dictated exclusively by the aspirations of the United States to cement its own geopolitical domination and oppose the emergence of a multipolar world. He confirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won”, but recalled the fate of several strategic stability agreements, including the withdrawal by the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019 and the Treaty on Open Skies in 2020. Further, the United States has refused to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and has yet to implement its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention. He also stressed that NATO’s expansion “effectively buried” the principle of indivisible security enshrined in the 1999 Charter for European Security.
He went on to recall that, in 2021, his country initiated dialogue with the United States regarding strategic stability, proposing consideration of all security issues and possible avenues for their regulation — including arms-control mechanisms. However, the United States rejected this, and a similar fate befell Moscow’s proposals on establishing a European security architecture based on Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) principles. Stressing that there are no objective reasons to convene today’s meeting, he recalled that his country repatriated all nuclear weapons from the countries of the former Soviet Union and called on the United States to return all nuclear weapons to its national territory. The Russian Federation also called on the United States to eliminate nuclear-sharing missions, which are at odds with both the letter and the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Underscoring that his country is pursuing cooperation with Belarus without violating international non-proliferation obligations, he said that President Putin has made clear that the Russian Federation is not transferring nuclear weapons. Rather, “we are talking about” the transfer of tactical missile systems, the retrofitting of Belarusian aircraft, the training of teams and the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, he said.
RONALDO COSTA FILHO (Brazil) said it seems that nuclear disarmament has gone into reverse since the 2020 Review Conference and all nuclear weapons States are upgrading their arsenals, either quantitatively or qualitatively or both. When Brazil ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998, its Parliament understood that the decision to join the Treaty was linked to the fulfilment of Article VI disarmament obligations by nuclear weapons States. Yet Article VI is not the only article that has not been fully observed. His delegation has long maintained that any nuclear sharing arrangement is inconsistent with both Articles I and II of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Brazil is not persuaded by arguments that seek to carve loopholes around the Treaty’s language. “We take both of these articles very seriously and we have long been opposed to any nuclear-sharing arrangements,” he said. He is also concerned with the nuclear-sharing arrangements of NATO and stressed that “two wrongs do not make a right”. The Article VI obligation is to curb the arms race and engage in disarmament. Most importantly, the risks in this area are higher than those in almost any other. “Tit-for-tat breaches of obligations in nuclear arms control and disarmament threaten to set off unpredictable processes of arms racing that greatly increase the risks of voluntary and involuntary escalation,” he added.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador), stressing that the only way to resolve the issue of nuclear weapons is through their total elimination, voiced his regret that the Russian Federation’s narrative and actions have continued to escalate global concerns. Any measure involving a nuclear threat must not only consider the consequences for the region and the world — especially any misinterpretation or miscalculation — but also end. Expressing his regret over the Russian Federation’s suspension of its participation in the New START Treaty, he urged that country to resume its obligations within the international security architecture. Ecuador, as part of the first densely populated nuclear-weapon-free zone established by the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean and as a State party to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, rejects nuclear weapons wherever they are found and their modernization. In that vein, his Government condemns the announcement by the Russian Federation to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus; cautions that Moscow’s actions and narrative fuel the risk of nuclear war; and calls for de-escalation to reduce risks and avoid accidents. Moscow must end the invasion, return to legality and honour the security assurances in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, he stressed.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), noting many of the horrors of the war in Ukraine, said the conflict has also forced the international community to confront the dangers and complexities associated with nuclear weapons, inactive nuclear material and armed conflict at and near nuclear power plant sites. On their own, such activities pose significant risks, but taken together, they perpetuate a dangerously escalatory cycle with potentially unfathomable repercussions. “Responsible States need not limit themselves to parsing the legality of each individual action, when it is the sum total of these actions that brings us ever closer to a nuclear catastrophe,” he stressed. All States must exercise prudence and caution. The Russian Federation and Ukraine’s recent agreement to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative illustrates the benefits of dialogue, he said, urging that same spirit to drive more focused diplomacy, including in the vital arenas of nuclear safety and security. “We must begin to lay the foundation for the conflict’s resolution,” he said, noting that the United Arab Emirates stands ready to support diplomatic efforts.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), voicing his condemnation of the agreement between the Russian Federation and Belarus to deploy nuclear weapons in the latter, said that this is a further blow to the arms control architecture, Europe’s strategic stability and international peace and security. Since 2018, Moscow has violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which directly led to its demise. It also suspended its participation in the New START Treaty in February, he reminded, calling on that Government to revisit this decision. By announcing its intention to deploy nuclear weapons outside its borders, it is once again contravening its international commitments — particularly those of the Budapest Memorandum — and aggravating an already unstable situation. The Russian Federation must demonstrate the responsibility that is expected of a nuclear-weapon State and reverse this destabilizing agreement with Belarus, he insisted. As nuclear weapons must only be used for defensive purposes, deterrence and war prevention, it is unacceptable for that Government to threaten nuclear weapon use for the purposes of coercion as part of its war of aggression against Ukraine. Reiterating his support to that embattled country, he condemned the use of Belarus’ territory as a launching pad for Russian Federation strikes on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and called on Minsk to reconsider its decision.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan) condemned remarks by Mr. Putin regarding his decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which further increases tensions even as Moscow continues its aggression against Ukraine. The Russian Federation is abusing its status as a nuclear-weapons State with its irresponsible rhetoric, he stressed, calling on all States to refrain from supporting such actions either directly or indirectly. He also voiced regret over Moscow’s recent announcement of a suspension of the New Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START) Treaty and called upon it to immediately reverse that decision. As the only country that has ever suffered atomic bombings during war, Japan is strongly committed to leading international efforts towards a world without nuclear weapons. “The record of 77 years of non-use of nuclear weapons must not be broken by Russia,” he stressed, calling on all Member States to renew their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as arms control.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), Council President for March, spoke in his national capacity, recalling that his country has consistently sounded alarm about the risk of strategic miscalculation and the potential of the war in Ukraine to escalate into a wider and more dangerous situation. Asking the Council to reflect upon the example set by the African continent — where a nuclear-weapon-free zone exists under the Treaty of Pelindaba — he said the continent does not possess any nuclear weapons and is committed to preserving that status. A nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought, he stressed, calling on all parties involved to engage in constructive dialogue and to work together to find peaceful solutions in line with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, which among other things prohibits the use or threat of use of force in international relations.
Mr. WOOD (United States), taking the floor again, said the representative of the Russian Federation totally distorted the facts around the unfortunate demise of several nuclear treaties. Regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, he recalled that, in 2013, the United States engaged Moscow and made clear that it had evidence that the Russian Federation was in violation of the treaty through its deployment of an out-of-range missile. Moscow denied the existence of such a missile, and the United States worked hard to bring the Russian Federation back into compliance with the treaty. In 2017, Moscow finally acknowledged the existence of such a missile, and the United States ruled that the Russian Federation was in breach of the treaty. The United States therefore “had no choice” but to withdraw from the treaty, he said. Regarding the issue of nuclear-sharing, he said the Russian Federation never fundamentally objected to NATO’s existing arrangements, for many decades. It was only after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea that it sought a reason to accuse the United States of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Emphasizing that the United States is in full compliance with that instrument, he rejected any allegations to the contrary as “patently false”.
Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), also taking the floor again, responded that the United States withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, as the country’s delegate just admitted. The Russian Federation will send a letter to the Security Council describing the series of steps that led to that outcome, he said, noting that the United States and other NATO States ignored several past invitations to dialogue on those matters in an attempt to conceal their violations. Finally, he asked the representative of the United States to clarify once and for all whether his country has nuclear weapons stationed on European soil.
SERGIY KYSLYTSYA (Ukraine) said his delegation requested today’s meeting in response to the recent announcement by the Russian Federation of its provocative decision to station nuclear weapons on the territory of a non-nuclear-weapon State, namely Belarus. That matter is a concern for the entire international community, he said, noting that “nuclear blackmail” is one tool the Russian Federation has exploited since the start of the war, along with threats of attacks at nuclear power facilities. Moscow continues to demonstrate its failure to prevail on the battlefield, so it is once again resorting to waiving its nuclear bludgeon. “The Kremlin is ready to threaten the world with nuclear apocalypse,” he stressed, noting that the recent announcement provided yet more proof that “papers that Putin signs mean nothing to him” — including a 2022 joint statement by put forward by five nuclear-weapons States committing to certain strategic reductions.
He noted that Moscow also violated another nuclear pledge made recently alongside China, which declared that all nuclear-weapons States should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their territory. China sensibly reminded Moscow of the need to pursue nuclear proliferation, and Beijing’s commitment to the agreement is firm and clear. However, in February, Moscow also announced its decision to suspend its participation in the New START Treaty. Its recent actions speak volumes about the Russian Federation’s willingness to engage meaningfully. For its part, Ukraine has always been a responsible member of the international community, having joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, and having fully abandoned the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. In contrast, the Russian Federation is indicating once again that it regards nuclear weapons as tools of threats and intimidation, not deterrence, he said.
VALENTIN RYBAKOV (Belarus) said that his country has been a consistent advocate for the process of nuclear disarmament, recalling its conscious choice in 1993 to renounce nuclear weapons and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, making it the first post-Soviet State to refuse the possession of such arms without preconditions. Also recalling the Budapest Memorandum, whose signatories promised to refrain from the use of political or economic coercive measures, he said that his country has been subjected to pressure for a long time, in violation of the agreements’ provisions. Trade and banking bans and other restrictions have been introduced against the Belarus Government, and on legal and natural persons, by the United States, United Kingdom and European Union States. Such measures constitute a “direct, gross interference” into his country’s domestic affairs and are aimed at changing its domestic configuration, he stressed. Belarus is undertaking actions to shore up its own defensive capacity in stringent compliance with international law in response to legitimate national security concerns around the ramping up of military capacity in direct proximity to its territory. His country has therefore felt “compelled” to cooperate with its “main military and political ally”, the Russian Federation, in response to these national security risks. Cooperation in the context of the Non-Proliferation Treaty is “nothing new”, he said, adding that the international community must focus on the “real threat” posed by NATO’s nuclear-sharing missions and the deployment by the United States of weapons outside its borders, in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
OLOF SKOOG, Head of Delegation of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said the bloc condemns the Russian Federation’s 25 March announcement of its intention to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus and that an agreement to this end has been reached with Minsk. This announcement is yet another irresponsible step that is escalating an already tense situation, in view of the Russian Federation’s illegal and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine. Just one month ago, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine, calling on all Member States to cooperate in the spirit of solidarity to address the global impacts of the war, including on nuclear security and safety. The Belarusian regime is an accomplice in the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The deletion of Belarus’ declared stance as a non-nuclear territory from the revised Constitution adopted in 2022 was a worrying development. The announcement last week that the Russian Federation intends to deploy nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory would be yet another dangerous step. “Threats with and use of nuclear weapons are inadmissible,” he said.
He recalled that on 3 January 2022, the Russian Federation signed a joint statement by the nuclear weapon States in the Non-Proliferation Treaty that reaffirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”. It reiterated this commitment just three days before its 25 March announcement in a 22 March joint statement with China. Yet through its unacceptable and dangerous nuclear rhetoric, and its 25 March announcement on deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, the Russian Federation starkly contradicts the commitments of which it has undertaken to be a guardian. This announced step also runs counter to Belarus’ commitment in the Budapest Memorandum “to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory”. The European Union calls on the Russian Federation and Belarus to reverse this decision and to abide by all their aforementioned commitments. The Union also calls on the Russian Federation to resume implementation of the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. The bloc and its member States will continue to monitor the situation closely, coordinating with like-minded partners.
KRZYSZTOF MARIA SZCZERSKI (Poland) underscored his country’s desire for its region to be one in which all nations can make free choices regarding their domestic and foreign policy, free from domination, suppression and external threats. He therefore expressed serious concern over the Russian Federation’s plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, and their means of delivery, to Belarus. Such a decision would constitute an irresponsible escalation and would only further increase ongoing tensions in Europe stemming from Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine. Further, it would pose a major risk to the integrity of the global non-proliferation system. He went on to emphasize that Moscow’s strategy — echoed today by Mr. Lukashenko — is clear. The Russian Federation intends to intimidate, to provoke and to impede efforts aimed at ending its war on Ukraine. “It is clearly the rhetoric of confrontation,” he observed, as it undermines efforts to find a successful peace formula. He also spotlighted the Russian Federation’s continued efforts to “fully subordinate” Belarus, stating that it is “deplorable” that the authorities in Minsk chose to enable Moscow’s illegal war in Ukraine in the first place and, now, have decided to further pursue this role “to the detriment of the security of us all”.
REIN TAMMSAAR (Estonia), speaking also on behalf of Latvia and Lithuania, said “nuclear blackmail does not work — we will not be intimidated nor deterred; we will continue to support Ukraine as long as it takes.” Just days after the joint statement with China in which the Russian Federation committed to reduce the risk of nuclear war and ease tensions, Moscow resorted again to dangerous and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric by revealing its alleged plan to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus. “The masks were off again,” he observed, adding that this latest statement signals that Government’s desperation on the battlefield. Under the threat of nuclear escalation, the Kremlin is hoping to deter Ukraine form exercising its inherent right to self-defence and intimidate States from helping that embattled country. Mr. Putin’s statement proves once again how unreliable, untrustworthy and worthless the Russian Federation’s commitments to its partners and the international community are. The world has watched how Moscow has systematically undermined international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. It is now time for the international community to recognize this destructive pattern and stand firmly against it, he insisted, urging that State to return to full compliance with the New START Treaty.
He then voiced his regret that Belarus is increasingly losing its sovereignty as it becomes more integrated into the Russian Federation’s military plans. Mr. Lukashenko must stop being an accomplice to Moscow’s desperate moves to threaten its neighbours and destabilize Europe, he stressed. For its part, the Belarusian democratic movement and civil society must prevent their country from becoming another victim of the Russian Federation’s imperial ambitions by continuing to stand up for a free, independent and democratic Belarus. Turning to the Russian Federation’s assumption of the Council’s presidency on 1 April, he stressed that this is shameful, humiliating and dangerous to the organ’s credibility and effective functioning. A country that fights a war of aggression against its neighbour, commits the most horrendous atrocities, threatens the world with nuclear weapons and has a war criminal with a standing arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court as its leader should have no place leading a body whose primary purpose is to preserve international peace and security. Responsible Council members must counter the Russian Federation’s attempts to transform the primary venue of international diplomacy into a mockery and a platform of disinformation, he emphasized.