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Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, during a press conference following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 18, 2022. (Photo: Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

'World Is Racing Toward the Cliff': Belarus to Host Russian Nuclear Weapons

One international campaigner called the country's decision to renounce its anti-nuclear status "the most alarming thing I've seen in my entire professional career."

Julia Conley

Anti-nuclear groups on Monday decried a referendum in Belarus allowing for the country to host nuclear weapons, as the European Union warned the development puts the entire planet on a "very dangerous path."

"This move by [Lukashenko] is concerning at any time but particularly alarming given Putin's recent nuclear escalation in words and actions."

Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s high representative for foreign affairs, was among those calling the referendum vote into question, saying it was "orchestrated" by President Alexander Lukashenko "in a context of widespread human rights violations" and the government's "brutal repression against all segments of the Belarusian society."

But regardless of the criticism, the reported results of the referendum—which showed more than 65% of voters supporting changes to the constitution including a renunciation of the country's neutral and non-nuclear status as well as new broad powers and legal immunity for Lukashenko—are expected to allow Russia to launch nuclear missiles from the Eastern European country.

The vote took place as Belarus also prepares to send troops to Ukraine to support the Russian military in its invasion that began last week.

Derek Johnson, managing partner of the international anti-nuclear coalition Global Zero, called the Belarusian referendum "the most alarming thing I've seen in my entire professional career."

"The world is racing toward the cliff with no off-ramp in sight," Johnson said.

Days after drawing international condemnation by invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday called on his military to put nuclear forces on "high alert," sparking fears that the conflict has entered "a truly dangerous spiral," according to one historian.

Sunday's referendum was "particularly alarming," said the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), "given Putin's recent nuclear escalation in words and actions."

Lukashenko said in a statement Sunday that he may "turn to Putin to return the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions" following the fall of the Soviet Union. 

"We are facing a tragedy for Ukraine, but also a major regional crisis with potentially disastrous implications for us all," said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres Monday. "The mere idea of a nuclear conflict is simply inconceivable."

Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde condemned the referendum results, noting that the Belarusian government, which has been run by Lukashenko for nearly three decades, has violated "international law and democratic principles" by incarcerating more than a thousand political prisoners and imposing "severe political repression."

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who ran against Lukashenko in the 2020 election before being exiled, said the public does not support the war against Ukraine, despite the government's claims.

The "best response" by the international community to the referendum result, said Franak Viačorka, senior adviser to Tsikhanouskaya, "would be sanctions."

"We stand with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in opposing this anti-democratic initiative and will work with civil society to restore Belarus' nuclear weapon free pledge," said ICAN. "We will always stand with democracy against weapons of mass destruction."

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