Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 61

Top leaders of the Belarusan opposition have made public a joint pledge to exert every effort to prevent the return of nuclear weapons to Belarus. Their statement responded to Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s televised remark which “did not rule out the possibility of redeployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus.” The opposition leaders condemned the intent implied in that remark as “gross and insolent interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country whose constitution provides for its neutral and nuclear-free status.” They termed “absurd” the idea of turning Belarus into a nuclear outpost for Russia–a move which could trigger nuclear proliferation by prompting “neighboring countries” (an allusion mainly to NATO member Poland) to take similar steps. And they urged Russia to “tackle its economic problems first, rather than waste money on shady undertakings.” “We demand an end to Russian nuclear blackmail of Belarus,” the statement concluded. Legitimate parliament chairman Syamyon Sharetski, “shadow government” leader Henadz Karpenka and former chairmen of parliament Stanislau Shushkevich and Mechislau Hryb publicized the statement at a joint news conference.

Shushkevich, who signed the 1994 international agreements on Belarus’ denuclearization, considers–in his professional capacity as a physicist–that the return of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus is now technically feasible. Shushkevich expressed concern lest such a return become legally and politically feasible through the planned unification of Belarus with Russia. In that case, “[Russian] nuclear weapons can be moved in any direction within the territory of the united state.” Hryb commented that Lukashenka is more to blame than the Russians for the Russian statements about a possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, because Lukashenka had repeatedly expressed regret about their earlier removal.

In a parallel statement, the Popular Front urged Belarusan youth and the military to resist the reentry of Russian troops and deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, and appealed to the United States and Britain (cosigners and guarantors of the 1994 denuclearization agreement) to “protect Belarus’ sovereignty, nuclear-free status and neutrality” (Belapan, Belarusan TV, Itar-Tass, March 26).