MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin announced plans Saturday to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, a warning to the West as it ramps up military support for Ukraine.
Putin said he was reacting to Britain’s decision last week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing bullets containing depleted uranium. Russia has falsely claimed that these rounds have nuclear components.
He said Russia would maintain control over tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus. The construction of the warehouse for them will be completed by July 1, Putin said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been looking for weapons for a long time, Putin said, speaking in an interview broadcast Saturday night on Russian state television.
Putin insisted that Russia would not violate its international nuclear non-proliferation obligations, saying the United States has long deployed its nuclear weapons on the territory of its NATO allies. Belarus borders three NATO members: Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Russia has used the territory of Belarus as a staging ground for sending troops into Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24, 2002, and Moscow and Minsk maintain close military ties.
Putin noted that Russia helped modernize Belarusian military aircraft last year to make them capable of carrying nuclear warheads. He said that 10 such planes are ready to take off. He said that nuclear weapons could also be launched by short-range Iskander missiles that Russia delivered to Belarus last year.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended for use on the battlefield, as opposed to more powerful, longer-range strategic nuclear weapons.