Key PointsBelarus neighbours Russia and Ukraine and will host Russian nuclear weapons.Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States has deployed nuclear weapons elsewhere before.Russia will remain in control of the weapons.Russia has struck a deal with neighbouring Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory but will not violate non-proliferation agreements, President Vladimir Putin says.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders Poland, Putin told state television.
“There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries,” he said.
“We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasise, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Mr Putin did not specify when the weapons would be transferred to Belarus.
“Tactical” nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains in the battlefield.
Russia will have completed the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, Mr Putin said, adding that it would not actually be transferring control of the arms to Belarus.
Russia has stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, he said, adding that it had already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems than can be used to launch nuclear weapons.
It would mark the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia will have based such arms outside the country.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, nuclear weapons were deployed in the four newly-independent states of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In May 1992, the four states agreed all the weapons should be based in Russia and the transfer of warheads from Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan was completed in 1996.
Putin made the announcement on Saturday at a time of growing tensions with the US over the Ukraine war.
Ukrainian forces have managed to blunt Russia’s offensive in and around the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, where the situation is stabilising, commander in chief General Valery Zaluzhniy said on Saturday.
Bakhmut is a major Russian target as it bids to fully capture Ukraine’s industrialised Donbas region.
At one point Russian commanders expressed confidence the city would fall soon but such claims have tailed off amid heavy fighting.
“The Bakhmut direction is the most difficult. Thanks to the titanic efforts of the defence forces, the situation is being stabilised,” Zaluzhniy said in a post on Telegram.
Russian attacks in and around Bakhmut have dropped to fewer than 20 a day compared to 30 or more in recent days, the Novoe Vremia online news outlet cited Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty as saying.