From Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 28, 2023, p. 1. Complete text:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to send tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus makes it difficult for Beijing to mediate between Moscow and Kiev. An expert in Beijing says the move would heighten tensions between Russia and the West and complicate China’s efforts to advance talks on a peaceful settlement to the conflict. Before the start of negotiations, Moscow obviously wanted to increase its pressure on the enemy. However, Chinese diplomacy is now in a difficult position.

The South China Morning Post, published in Hong Kong, states that by announcing its intention to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, Moscow sent a warning to NATO.

But at the same time, this move contradicts one of the provisions of the joint statement of the Russian Federation and China on the deepening of relations of a comprehensive strategic partnership signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

This document says: “All nuclear powers should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national borders and should withdraw all nuclear weapons stationed abroad.” Moscow apparently decided not to take this postulate into account. Zhou Chenming, of the Yuan Wang Institute of Military Science and Technology in Beijing, says relations between Russia and the West will become even more tense as a result. Nevertheless, Beijing will no doubt continue to advocate negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. But the chances for the success of the Chinese peace initiative are declining, and Beijing’s differences with Moscow are being exposed.

“We share Putin’s concern that the US could derail peace talks with Ukraine, and we understand the strategic dilemma that Moscow must resolve. But Russia has not been as open with China as we had hoped. The deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus does not comply with the obligations announced in the joint statement,” Zhou said. One way that Putin justified his decision was by saying that Russia would not violate the Treaty on Nonproliferation [of Nuclear Weapons]. It will not hand over control of nuclear weapons to Belarus. But this argument will not convince Europe, much less the US, whose goal is to wear down Russia.

Other Chinese experts are also concerned about Moscow’s decision. But the main thing now is not to succumb to emotions and to develop a mechanism that reduces the risk of nuclear war as soon as possible. Cui Heng, of the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University, said Putin’s decision was a response to Britain’s announcement that it would send depleted uranium shells to Ukraine [see the article under Ukraine, below].

And Song Zhongping, a military observer and TV commentator, recalls that the trend toward spreading nuclear weapons in Europe was spurred on by NATO during the cold war. There used to be 4,000 of these weapons on the continent. Today, approximately 100 warheads remain at bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. Both Russia and the US should talk directly about how to move away from the dangerous brink, Song urges.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not shy away from commenting on Putin’s decision. Its spokeswoman Mao Ning said that war between nuclear powers should not be allowed. They need to push for détente and focus on a diplomatic settlement in Ukraine. This is no longer the opinion of scholars and analysts, but an official assessment. The conclusion follows ipso facto. Beijing did not approve of Moscow’s move. At best, this step caused bewilderment in the political circles of the Celestial Empire.

The conundrum for Chinese diplomacy is reinforced by the fact that in the coming days, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is coming to Beijing, followed by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen, probably together. At meetings with Xi Jinping, the focus will be on the normalization of Europe’s relations with China. But the guests will obviously put forward a demand that Beijing persuade Russia to make concessions to Ukraine. And here, too, Moscow’s decision will become a barrier to consensus.

In an interview with NG, Aleksandr Lukin, research director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of China and Contemporary Asia, said: “Moscow’s decision will not interfere with the implementation of the Chinese peace plan. The thing is, it’s impossible to do that at all. The press dubbed it a plan. It is a declaration of principles. There are no proposals for concrete steps at one stage or another. The main idea is to start negotiations. And Ukraine refuses to negotiate. As for the differences between the Russian position and the joint statement in Moscow, I interpret that point as follows: This is Moscow’s answer to the fact that the US is not removing its atomic bombs from Europe. If the US takes them out, then Russia will withdraw its ordnance.