President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is preparing to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, intensifying a confrontation with the United States and its allies over the war in Ukraine.
Moscow is not handing over arms control to Belarus and will not violate its non-proliferation obligations under an agreement with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin said in comments broadcast on state television on Saturday.
The United States has “long deployed its tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of its allied countries”, he said.
Ten aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads have already been prepared in Belarus, and the weapons storage facilities will be completed by July 1, Putin said, without indicating when Russia would send the weapons to its ally’s territory.
Short-range Iskander missiles – capable of carrying nuclear warheads – had also been sent to Belarus, and crew training there would begin on April 3, Putin said.
The decision comes as the Kremlin prepares for an expected Ukrainian military offensive, after Russian forces failed to make a breakthrough during months of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia has canceled its own plans for a further advance and is seeking to recruit up to 400,000 contract troops to replenish its ranks as it embarks on a long campaign.
Russia has repeatedly resorted to nuclear saber blows as the more than a year-long invasion of Ukraine falters, drawing condemnation from the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Putin announced last month that Russia was to suspend participation in the New START nuclear weapons treaty with the United States, the latest agreement limiting their strategic stockpiles. US President Joe Biden called it a “big mistake”.
The Kremlin has not publicly stated that Russia’s nuclear arsenal has been based in other countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Ukraine and Kazakhstan returned stockpiles of weapons to their territories. During the Cold War, NATO and the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact group stationed nuclear weapons in Europe.
Putin said the deal to deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus followed a young British defense minister’s revelation that Britain would send shells made with depleted uranium to Ukraine. Yet, he said, Lukashenko had long urged him to station Russian nuclear weapons in his country.
“All our agreements will take place in the very near future,” Putin said.
Depleted uranium munitions do not cause a nuclear explosion but use the high density of the metal to penetrate armor. Putin this week threatened to respond if the UK continued deliveries.
The United States and other NATO states are delivering large volumes of weapons to Ukraine that pose “a threat” to Russia, Putin said. Russia has “hundreds of thousands” of shells containing depleted uranium although it has not yet used them, he said.
As Ukraine’s allies increase arms and ammunition production, Russia’s defense production is growing very rapidly and will “produce three times more ammunition” and tanks than Ukraine’s backers will not provide, Putin said.