Belarusan Sunday television proudly announced that the country possessed some two metric tons of plutonium and uranium — an amount that qualifies it as a nuclear "threshold" state. The revelation aired on the news program "Rezonans," one closely associated with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government. In the past, Lukashenka seems to have been tempted to try to play a nuclear card despite the fact that Belarus returned to Russia all the Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil and subscribed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear state. Several times he held up the repatriation of the Russian missiles, and then threatened to invite them back as a counter to NATO’s eastward expansion.
The recognized nuclear "threshold" states — countries that have not declared themselves nuclear powers but are believed to possess nuclear weapons or the ability to produce them in short order — are India, Israel and Pakistan. None has joined the NPT. The Rezonans presenter indicated that this status was a profitable one: "God knows how much is paid to those countries to keep them from joining the club of nuclear states."
It was no secret that there is fact fissile material in Belarus. Uranium — some of it highly enriched — was used in an experimental reactor just outside Minsk and in two mobile nuclear power units. Both fresh and spent fuel from these reactors and low-level radioactive waste are stored at the Sosny academic and scientific complex. Over the past few years the United States has provided money and technology to help upgrade the security of the storage facilities at Sosny. The Japanese have also participated in this effort. If Lukashenka wanted to give the impression Belarus might be tempted to develop nuclear weapons, his own scientists let him down. A source at Sosny, while confirming the existence of the two tons of fissile material and waste, said that it would be impossible to build a bomb from this without "certain technologies" that the country did not have "and tremendous expenditure which the republic is not in a position to make." The only real surprise in Sunday’s announcement was that it was made at all. (Russian and foreign media, February 9)
[The Monitor continues its survey of Ukraine’s political parties and blocs in the runup to the parliamentary elections. See the series of profiles in The Monitor, November 6, 17, and 20; December 5, 12, and 24, 1997; January 8 and February 4, 1998.]
Ukraine’s Political Landscape: The National Front.