Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, noting that for the first time since the mid-1990s, Moscow will deploy such weapons outside the country. Writes about it to Reuters.
Putin made the announcement at a time of rising tensions with the West over the war in Ukraine, as well as speculation by some Russian commentators about possible nuclear strikes.
Tactical nuclear weapons refer to those that are used for specific purposes on the battlefield, not those that can wipe out cities. It's unclear how many of these weapons Russia has, given that the area is still shrouded in the tradition of Cold War secrecy.
This is an important development, experts said, as the Russian Federation (RF) has so far taken pride in the fact that, unlike the United States, it has not deployed nuclear weapons outside its borders.
Belarus shares borders with three NATO members - Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
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“This is part of Putin's game to try and intimidate NATO because there is no military benefit in doing it in Belarus,” said Hans Christensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Putin said Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko had long raised the issue of deploying tactical nuclear weapons in his country.
“There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades. They have long placed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries,” he said. “We agreed that we would do the same without violating our international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Putin did not specify when the weapons would be handed over to Belarus.
By July 1, the Russian Federation will complete the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
“We do not transfer weapons. And the US does not hand it over to its allies. We are essentially doing what they have been doing for ten years,” Putin argued. “They have allies in some countries and they train their crews. We're going to do the same."
Russia has deployed 10 aircraft capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, he explained, adding that Moscow has already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems capable of launching nuclear weapons.
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“This is a very important step,” said Nikolai Sokol, senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. - Russia has always been very proud of the fact that it does not have nuclear weapons outside its territory. So it's a big change."
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, nuclear weapons were deployed in four newly independent states—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
In May 1992, the four states agreed that all weapons should be based in Russia, and the transfer of warheads from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan was completed in 1996.
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