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Czech government should push for tougher sanctions against Belarus

What is the current situation? On 25 March 2023, Russian dictator Putin announced that the Kremlin was ready to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. In his statement, he said that the deal with Belarusian dictator Lukashenko is done. Putin justified this decision on the one hand by saying that Britain is to supply Kiev with its Challenger-2 tanks with depleted uranium ammunition, and on the other hand that Lukashenko has been asking for this type of weapon for some time.

Putin’s words were confirmed by the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko, who said in his statement to parliament that he was also prepared to deploy strategic nuclear weapons on his territory if necessary. In addition, Lukashenko has admitted that not all the sites where strategic nuclear weapons have been placed have been destroyed under his rule and has now ordered their restoration. Alongside this, he also stated that the infrastructure for the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus is ready and that Minsk has also received Iskander ballistic missiles from Moscow, which have a range of around 500 km (this is apparently the Iskander-M type, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead).

What will be the consequences of placing nuclear weapons in Belarus? Neither Putin’s nor Lukashenko’s words can be independently verified, nor is it possible to know whether tactical nuclear weapons have been moved to Belarus (or will be moved in the near future; Putin has saidthat a stockpile of these weapons is to be ready in Belarus by July 1 of this year). Regardless, it is important to note that this is, at least rhetorically, a significant escalation, with both dictatorships trying to blackmail neighbouring countries with the nuclear button.

In part, Lukashenko is trying to legitimise the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the attitude of Poland, which he says should have asked the United States to deploy its nuclear weapons in the country. However, this statement does not correspond to reality, because Poland has never officially asked Washington for nuclear weapons. However, in response to Putin and Lukashenko’s actions, Jacek Siewiera, an adviser to the Polish president, said that his country was ready to cooperate within the North Atlantic Alliance to provide a greater nuclear deterrent to both dictatorships. He added, however, that there was no question of deploying nuclear weapons directly on Polish territory.

Lukashenko’s actions and statements are in direct contradiction with the so-called Budapest Memorandum, which was signed on 5 December 1994, and the Treaty on the Accession of Belarus to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which Minsk joined a year earlier. After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus had dozens (81 in total) of intercontinental missiles with nuclear warheads, which it was supposed to get rid of in favour of Russia.

Despite the fact that Lukashenko’s speech mocked the fact that additional sanctions could be imposed on him for the relocation of nuclear weapons, he did not come across as nearly as confident, and there was a certain irritation evident when he uttered these words. Indeed, sanctions were imposed on Belarus after the harsh crackdown on the August 2020 protests. Subsequently, the West got even tougher after the Lukashenko regime hijacked a Ryanair plane, taking the well-known opposition blogger Protasevich and his girlfriend Sapega from the deck to prison. The next round of sanctions came after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, which Minsk actively facilitated. There was, for example, the disconnection of three Belarusian banks from the SWIFT system. Sanctions were also adopted in connection with the smuggling of stolen Ukrainian grain through Belarusian territory.

What should the Czech government do? The Czech government should support further sectoral sanctions against the Belarusian regime at the European Union level, including the disconnection of more banks from the SWIFT international banking payment system, support further sectoral economic sanctions, especially in the area of agriculture and fertilisers, and at the same time advocate at the European Union level for consistent enforcement of the sanctions already imposed, including the introduction of so-called secondary sanctions on countries that help the Lukashenko and Putin regimes to circumvent the restrictive measures already in place.

In addition, the Czech Government should officially speak out and discourage sports associations, including the Olympic Committee, from taking a neutral or positive stance towards the participation of Belarusian athletes in international competitions. Sport in particular is a sensitive issue for the Belarusian dictator, who would use the participation of Belarusian athletes for state propaganda purposes.