Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Transport Minister at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 25, 2023. (PHOTO / SPUTNIK / AFP)
Russia will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, adding that the move would not violate nuclear non-proliferation promises.
Putin likened his plans to the US stationing its weapons in Europe and said that Russia would not be transferring control to Belarus. This could be the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia were to base such weapons outside the country.
Putin said that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long requested the deployment. Minsk and Moscow have a close military relationship
"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," Putin told state television.
"We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons."
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The United States has reacted cautiously to Putin's statement, with a senior administration official saying there were no signs Moscow planned to use its nuclear weapons.
The senior US administration official noted that Russia and Belarus had been speaking about the transfer of nuclear weapons for some time.
"We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon. We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance," the official said.
Putin did not specify when the weapons would be transferred to Belarus, which has borders with three NATO members – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. He said Russia would complete the construction of a storage facility there by July 1.
It was also unclear where in Belarus the weapons would be stationed. The transfer would expand Russia's nuclear strike ability along NATO's eastern border.
Putin said that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long requested the deployment. Minsk and Moscow have a close military relationship. Minsk allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine last year and the two nations stepped up joint military training.
"We are not handing over (the weapons). And the US does not hand (them) over to its allies. We're basically doing the same thing they've been doing for a decade," Putin said.
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"They have allies in certain countries and they train … their crews. We are going to do the same thing."
Russia has stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, Putin said, adding that it had already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems that can launch nuclear weapons.