- Belarus started taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia would retain control of the weapons.
- Belarus has several storage facilities left over from the Soviet era, said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country has started taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons, some of which he said were three times more powerful than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The deployment is Moscow’s first move of such warheads – shorter-range less powerful nuclear weapons that could potentially be used on the battlefield – outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The step is being watched closely by the United States and its allies as well as by China, which has repeatedly cautioned against the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war.
“We have missiles and bombs that we have received from Russia,” Lukashenko said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 Russian state TV channel which was posted on the Belarusian Belta state news agency’s Telegram channel.
“The bombs are three times more powerful than those (dropped on) Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” he said.
Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said separately on Tuesday that the nuclear weapons would be physically deployed on the territory of Belarus “in several days” and that he had the facilities to host longer-range missiles too if ever needed.
Putin said on Friday that Russia, which will retain control of the tactical nuclear weapons, would start deploying them in Belarus after special storage facilities to house them were made ready.
The Russian leader announced in March he had agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, pointing to the US deployment of such weapons in a host of European countries over many decades.
The US has criticised Putin’s decision but has said it has no intention of altering its own stance on strategic nuclear weapons and has not seen any signs that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
Lukashenko told Russian state TV in the same interview, which was released late on Tuesday, that his country had numerous nuclear storage facilities left over from the Soviet-era and had restored five or six of them.
Lukashenko, who has allowed his country to be used by Russian forces attacking Ukraine as part of what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, has said the nuclear deployment would act as a deterrent against potential aggressors.
Belarus borders three NATO member countries: Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
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