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Russia to store tactical nuclear arms in Belarus

March 25, 2023

The Russian leader said he struck a deal with his Belarusian counterpart to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, making it the first time Moscow has based the arms outside the country since the mid-1990s.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, turned to his side, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, fully clear, in this picture
Belarus does not have nuclear weapons of its own, and relies heavily on Moscow for military and economic securityImage: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP/picture alliance

Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, according to TASS state news agency.

Putin said he reached an agreement with Belarusian president — and his closest regional ally — Alexander Lukashenko.

"We agreed with Lukashenko that we could place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus without violating the nonproliferation regime," Putin said, according to the TASS report.

"There is nothing unusual here either: The United States has been doing this for decades. They have long placed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allies," Putin added.

Tactical nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains in the battlefield and the transfer of the weapons would mark the first time Russia will have based them outside the country since the mid-1990s.

The announcement comes as the battle for Bakhmut rages on, with Ukraine's top military chiefs claiming that the Kremlin's forces are depleted on the ground.

Russia to store tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus: Juri Rescheto reports

The US Department of Defense said in a statement they had no indications that Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons and that they would continue to monitor the situation.

 "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 defense of the NATO alliance," the statement read. 

What to know about the deal

Putin said that Lukashenko had long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and that Russia has already stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons.

Belarus does not have nuclear weapons of its own and Lukashenko has previously raised concerns about a potential future threat from neighboring Poland, a member of NATO.

The Russian leader said that Russia will have completed the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, but did not specify when the transfer of weapons would take place.

Putin said Moscow would not actually be transferring control of the arms to Minsk.

Putin: Moscow to station nuclear weapons in Belarus

What to know about Russia-Belarus relations

Putin used Belarus to launch his invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

There had been growing fears at the end of last year over whether Belarus would join Russian forces on the ground, however Lukashenko said earlier this year they would only join the war in Ukraine if its forces were attacked in Belarus.

Putin made a rare trip last year December to Belarus, telling reporters that he and Lukashenko discussed forming "a single defense space" in the region.

While Belarus is heavily dependent on Moscow for economic and military aid, Putin rejected claims that Moscow was poised to swallow its neighbors, saying, "Russia isn't interested in any kind of merger, it's not feasible." 

The Russian leader said he supported Lukashenko's proposal to train the crews of Belarusian warplanes that already had already been modified for the use of special warheads — a reference to nuclear weapons.

The two allies then announced a plan to modernize Belarusian aircraft to make them nuclear-capable.

 Lukashenko also thanked Putin during the meeting last year for providing his military with nuclear-capable Iskander short-range missiles and S-400 air defense systems.

rm/kb (Reuters, dpa)

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