Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow struck a deal with neighbouring Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory.
Putin’s announcement on Saturday comes as tensions grow with the West over the Ukraine war and as some Russian commentators speculate about possible nuclear strikes.
The deal with Belarus would not violate nuclear nonproliferation agreements, Putin said, adding that the United States had stationed nuclear weapons in the territory of its European allies for decades.
“We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons,” Putin said.
Putin told state television that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in his country, which borders NATO member Poland.
Russia will have completed the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, Putin said, adding that Russia would not actually be transferring control of the arms to Minsk.
Russia has already stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons and has transferred a number of Iskander tactical missile systems, which can be used to launch nuclear weapons, the Russian president added.
The US – the world’s other nuclear superpower – reacted cautiously to Putin’s statement, with a senior administration official saying there were no signs Moscow planned to use its nuclear weapons.
“We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance,” the official said.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called Putin’s announcement an extremely dangerous escalation.
“In the context of the war in Ukraine, the likelihood of miscalculation or misinterpretation is extremely high. Sharing nuclear weapons makes the situation much worse and risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences,” it said on Twitter.
Putin announced last month that Moscow would suspend its participation in New START, the last remaining arms control treaty between the world’s two main nuclear powers Russia and the United States.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg slammed Russia for suspending the nuclear weapons treaty, saying it marked the end of Europe’s post-Cold War arms control architecture.
Putin did so after Moscow in August suspended New START-mandated US inspections of its military sites.
Belarus is closely allied with Russia. Longtime ruler Lukashenko, whose re-election as president in 2020 is not recognised by the West, is militarily, politically and economically dependent on Moscow.
At the start of the all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, some Russian units had entered from Belarusian territory.
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