Russian President Vldimir Putin said on Saturday that Moscow will station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, escalating the conflict with Nato. Belarus, a close ally of Russia, shares borders with NATO members such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
If Moscow indeed transfers tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Russia's nuclear attack abilities will be boosted along the Nato border. Putin said the deployment will not violate any international regulations, citing that the US has deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the territories of its allies.
Nothing Unusual, Says Putin
"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 .. 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," Putin said in a address on state television.
Putin also said Russia has already stationed 10 fighter jets in Belarus that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian president said the construction of the special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be completed in July. Belarus has had no nuclear weapons since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the existing warheads were transferred to Russia.
Conflict with Nato
Analysts said the Kremlin's move is meant to intimidate Nato, which has been pouring weapons and money into Ukraine. "This is part of Putin's game to try to intimidate NATO ... because there is no military utility from doing this in Belarus as Russia has so many of these weapons and forces inside Russia," said Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists, according to Reuters.
Belarus, a staunch ally of Russia, has stood by Moscow throughout the Ukraine invasion and had initially facilitated the Russian troops' advance into Ukraine. Moscow had earlier moved Iskander tactical missile systems to Belarus. These missiles are capable of launching tactical nuclear weapons.
Geopolitical strategists do not see a strong reason for Russia to open nuclear warfare. However, over the last year, the West's collective offensive has dealt a huge blow to the Russian army in Ukraine, forcing the Kremlin to look at alternatives.
What are Tactical Nuclear Weapons?
"Tactical" nuclear weapons are smaller warheads that are used to take down specific targets. These are not mega bombs that will completely destroy cities and populations.
Meanwhile, the US reacted to the development with caution. Washington said it was unlikely that Moscow would opt to use nuclear weapons.
"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," a senior U.S. administration official said, according to Reuters.