TALLINN, Estonia — Russia and Belarus on Thursday signed an agreement formalizing the deployment of Moscow’s tactical nuclear weapons on its ally’s territory, though control of the weapons remains in the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of short-range weapons in Belarus earlier this year, a move widely seen as a warning to the West as it ramped up military aid to Ukraine.
When the weapons will be deployed has not been announced, but Putin has said construction of storage facilities in Belarus will be completed before July 1.
It is also unclear how many nuclear weapons would be kept in Belarus. The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, including aircraft-carryable bombs, short-range missile warheads, and artillery shells.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield. They have a relatively short range and much lower yield than warheads mounted on long-range strategic missiles that can destroy entire cities.
Speaking in Moscow, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that “the nuclear weapons movement has begun”, but it was not clear whether any had actually arrived in his country. Lukashenko, who sparked rumors that he was seriously ill when he cut off a Victory Day performance in Red Square on May 9 before reappearing in public on May 15, attended a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council with Putin and leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
The signing of the deal came as Russia prepared for a counter-offensive by Ukraine. Both Russian and Belarusian officials also viewed the move as being driven by hostilities from the West.
“The deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons is an effective response to the aggressive policies of countries that are unfriendly to us,” Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said in Minsk during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.
“In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats on the western borders of Russia and Belarus, it was decided to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear field,” Shoigu added.
Putin has argued that in deploying its tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russia followed the example of the United States, noting that the US has nuclear weapons in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya condemned the move.
“We must do everything we can to prevent Putin’s plan to put nuclear weapons in Belarus, as this will ensure Russia’s control over Belarus for years to come,” Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press. “This will further jeopardize the security of Ukraine and all of Europe.”
Independent Belarusian military analyst Aliaksandr Alesin said about two-thirds of Russia’s arsenal of nuclear-tipped intermediate-range missiles were held in Belarus during the Cold War, adding that there are dozens of Soviet-era storage facilities that can still be used.
Soviet nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were moved to Russia through a US-brokered deal after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“Documents in Minsk on the return of nuclear weapons were defiantly signed just as Ukraine declared a counter-offensive and Western countries handed over weapons to Kiev,” Alesin told AP.
“This Belarusian nuclear balcony should spoil the mood for politicians in the West, as nuclear missiles could cover Ukraine, all of Poland, the Baltic states and parts of Germany.”
Khrenin also announced plans to “build up the combat potential of the regional grouping of Russian and Belarusian forces”, including the transfer to Minsk of the Iskander-M missile system, which can carry a nuclear payload, and the S-400 anti-aircraft guns. missile system.
Russia and Belarus have an alliance agreement under which the Kremlin subsidizes the Belarusian economy, through loans and discounted Russian oil and gas. Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging post for its invasion of neighboring Ukraine and has maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine
Copyright 2022 ABC NEWS. All rights reserved.
Follow WT LOCAL on Social Media for the Latest News and Updates.
Share this news on your Facebook,Twitter and Whatsapp.