Russian president says deal struck with Belarusian counterpart would not violate nuclear nonproliferation agreements.
Russia has struck a deal with neighbouring Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, President Vladimir Putin says.
Putin made the announcement on Saturday 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.
He also said he would deploy depleted uranium ammunition if Kyiv receives such munitions from the West. His comment followed a British announcement that it would supply Ukraine with these anti-tank shells.
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, Putin said.
On the question of how Moscow would respond if the West supplied Ukraine with depleted uranium shells, Putin said Russia had vast quantities of the weaponry.
“Russia, of course, has what it needs to answer,” Putin said in an interview on Russian television. “Without exaggeration, we have hundreds of thousands of such shells. We have not used them yet.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has warned that nuclear threats were creating a dangerous sense of uncertainty around their possible use.
The longer Russia’s operation in Ukraine grinds on, the greater the nuclear strike risk, ICAN warned last month.
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.