Russia announced on Monday that it believes it has the full right to deploy nuclear weapons in the recently annexed Crimean peninsula.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Interfax news agency that since Crimea was now a part of Russia, Moscow had full rights to deploy nuclear weapons into the region.
Lavrov argues that Crimea can be treated just like any other part of Russia and can therefore host nuclear infrastructure. “Now Crimea has become part of a state which possesses such weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” says Lavrov. “In accordance with international law, Russia has every reason to dispose of its nuclear arsenal … to suit its interests and international legal obligations.”
The Russian foreign minister is using “international law” selectively here. After all, only a small handful of countries, including Syria, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, recognise Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. The rest consider Russia’s seizure of the region to be an illegal act of aggression.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March following a widely disputed referendum. The vote was carried out after thousands of Russian troops had already entered the peninsula. The validity of the referendum has been called into question following a 97% approval rate for union with Russia.
In the face of crippling Western sanctions and a crashing ruble, Lavrov likely mentioned Russia’s ability to place nuclear weapons in the contested peninsula as a means of rallying the Russian people around Moscow’s nationalist policies.
“Lavrov has brought up this nuclear weapons issue to demonstrate that the Kremlin considers Crimea such an inalienable part of Russia that it may choose to do with it whatever it wants, including the deployment of nukes,” Alexander Golts, a deputy editor of Yezhednevny Zhurnal and a Russian political expert, told the Los Angeles Times.
Lavrov’s insistence that Russia has the right to move nuclear weapons into Crimea marks only the latest instance in which Russian officials or pro-government public figures have spoken openly at the country’s arsenal. In March, a prominent Russian broadcaster warned that Moscow could turn the US into “radioactive dust.” This was followed by a warning from the Russian Pravda that Moscow had a “nuclear surprise” for the West in November.
Technically, neither the US nor Russia can move strategic nuclear forces without verifying the deployment with the other country due to the 2010 New START treaty, which set a timeline for mutual cuts to the countries’ nuclear stockpiles. Any Russian movement of strategic nuclear weapons into Crimea (long-range, high-yield weapons, as opposed to tactical or battlefield nuclear warheads) without prior notification to the US would result in Russia violating the treaty.
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