Putin to send nuclear weapons to Belarus
Vladimir Putin has announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus for the first time, shifting his most destructive weapons closer to Europe and Kyiv.
The move represents the first time Russia will store part of its nuclear arsenal in another country since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"We agreed with Lukashenko that we would place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus without violating the nonproliferation regime,” he said in an interview for Russian TV broadcast on Saturday evening.
Mr Putin went on to suggest that his announcement was in response to news that Britain was sending depleted uranium shells to Ukraine with its Challenger-2 tanks.
"Russia has its own answer to ammunition with depleted uranium. We have similar weapons, but the Russian Federation has not yet used them,” he said.
Experts insist however that depleted uranium is standard use in British armour-piercing shells and holds no nuclear value.
Responding to Russia’s concerns around depleted uranium earlier in the week, the British ministry of defence said: “The British Army has used depleted uranium in its armour piercing shells for decades. It is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities. Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform.”
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko is a staunch supporter of Mr Putin and allowed Russia to use Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion of Ukraine.
He has resisted Mr Putin’s pressure to directly enter the war but has allowed Russian warplanes to use Belarusian airspace to fire missiles at Ukrainian targets.
Last year, the Russian military upgraded Belarus’ air force so that it was capable of firing missiles with nuclear warheads and in February, Belarus’ military said that it had taken delivery of Iskander missile launchers from Russia which are capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles.
Mr Putin said that he wasn’t breaking any international treaties because we are “doing what the US has been doing for decades”.
“We agreed that we will do the same, without violating our obligations,” he said.
The US stations nuclear missiles in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Earlier this year, Russia pulled out of the Start Nuclear Treaty, the last remaining treaty with the US aimed at stopping a nuclear arms proliferation.
Mr Putin said that the storage facility to house tactical nuclear weapons would be completed by July and that Russia would remain in control of the weapons.
Russia is already suspected of stationing nuclear weapons in its European exclave of Kaliningrad, wedged between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. It has also developed a missile called Satan-2 that can fire a nuclear warhead at any city in the world within minutes of being launched from Russia.
Kremlin officials threatened Russia’s enemies with nuclear strikes last year, although US intelligence has said that this threat has receded.
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 it left parts of its nuclear arsenal in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. A deal signed in 1992 meant that by 1996, former Soviet nuclear weapons outside Russia had either been destroyed or transferred back to Russia.
Mr Putin also used his TV interview to back up claims that either Ukrainian or US special forces blew up the Nord Stream oil gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea last year.
Initially, Western intelligence agencies had blamed Russia for blowing up the pipeline.
Earlier this week, Mr Putin hosted Chinese president Xi Jinping in Moscow, giving himself a major boost on the world stage, although he said that discussions about a Chinese peace plan for the war in Ukraine were only a part of their talks.
“The main focus of the talks was on the economy,” he said in his TV interview.