What We're Watching: Russian nukes in Belarus, Bibi’s men breaking ranks
Putin to deploy tactical nukes in Belarus
Vladimir Putin on Saturday announced that Russia plans to send tactical nuclear weapons to staunch ally Belarus. Construction of storage units will be completed by July 1, although Putin was vague on when the nukes themselves would be deployed. (Recap: Tactical nukes are lower-yield atomic weapons that can’t take out entire cities like strategic ones.)
The Russian leader said he made the decision after the US and UK announced they would be supplying Ukraine with anti-tank rounds made from depleted uranium. What’s more, Putin believes that Russia is well within its right to do this since America already has US tactical nukes in six NATO countries and that Moscow is not violating its nuclear non-proliferation obligations because it’ll retain control over the weapons.
US officials downplay the idea that storing Russian tactical nukes in Belarus will impact the war in Ukraine, which is already well within range of the Kremlin’s vast nuclear arsenal. But the announcement might be a provocation aimed at rattling Western public opinion against helping Ukraine as Russia struggles on the battlefield. Also, there’s currently no clear path forward for a negotiated settlement despite last week’s high-stakes meeting between Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Russia has often played up its nuclear rhetoric when things are not going well in Ukraine. In fact, Putin reportedly considered using tactical nukes last fall but finally decided against it. Still, the fact that the nuclear option is on the table at all should be alarming to anyone.
Bibi sacks his first defector
Israeli PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu on Saturday fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant. Gallant had called for the government to suspend judicial reform legislation that has triggered widespread protests and caused the shekel, Israel’s currency, to plummet. It’s the first sign that Netanyahu’s men — yes, they are almost all men — in the Knesset (parliament) are beginning to break ranks.
Gallant, a former navy commando, had demanded a halt on the grounds that the reforms were imperiling national security after scores of army reservists said they wouldn't show up for training due to the government’s plans to gut the Supreme Court’s powers. (The New York Times reports that Israel might soon have to “reduce the scope of certain operations” due to a shortage of reservists.)
What’s more, at least two members of Bibi’s Likud Party had come out in support of Gallant prior to his dismissal. Still, it’s unclear who will back the bill if it comes to a final vote or whether there'll be more holdouts.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the attorney general gave the PM a week to respond to an open letter accusing Bibi of illegally interfering in the judicial process due to a conflict of interest. Buckle up for another wild week in Israeli politics.