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Russian President Vladimir Putin most likely made the decision to deploy Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus before the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and probably chose this moment to serve his current messaging strategy against Ukraine's Western allies, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest update.
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko offered to host Russia's nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory on Nov. 30, 2021, and Belarus removed the constitutional clause enshrining Belarus’ neutral status in a referendum in February 2022.
ISW forecasted in January and February 2022 that Putin could seek to deploy tactical or strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus as part of a "broader effort to deepen Russian control over the nation."
He may have refrained from deploying the weapons to Belarus at the start of the 2022 invasion to preserve the option to deploy them as part of a future Russian information operation to manipulate the West.
"Putin likely chose to push these narratives now hoping to diminish Ukrainian morale and Western aid to diminish the effectiveness of a rumored pending Ukrainian counteroffensive," the ISW said.