Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a new deal with Belarus to deploy and station its nuclear weapons in the neighboring country. Putin shared details of the plan today, saying that control of the weapons will remain in Moscow’s hands, but that the systems will be stationed in Belarus.
“We are not transferring our tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, but we will deploy them and train the military, like the United States in Europe,” Putin said.
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Putin stressed that point, saying that the decision is “nothing unusual” and saying that the United States had an established precedent for it. Russia intends to build a facility in Belarus to store the weapons, but added that some Iskander tactical nuclear missile systems are already in the country.
Several of the nuclear arms treaties between the United States and Russia had expired in recent years. In February, Putin announced that Russia was pulling out of New START, the last remaining arms reduction deal, but said that it would not attempt to exceed the arms cap under New START.
Belarus, as a former Soviet republic, had nuclear weapons within its early independence. It was one of the signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, with the weapons fully removed in 1996. In February 2022 voters approved a measure that would let it host nuclear weapons. This February, Lukashenko told reporters Belarus does not need strategic nuclear weapons. In today’s announcement, Putin said that the Belarusian president had been discussing hosting Russian nuclear weapons for some time.
The announcement comes more than a year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Instead of an easy sweep to Kyiv, the fighting has turned into a brutal war of attrition in Ukraine’s east and south. Heavy fighting and artillery barrages have resulted in high casualties, and depleted much of Russia’s modern armor force, forcing them to bring out old T-55 tanks. Putin has also warned NATO countries including the United States of getting involved, saying it could lead to a potential nuclear conflict. After the United Kingdom announced plans this month to armor-piercing tank ammunition with depleted uranium to Ukraine, Putin said that Russia “will have to respond accordingly, given that the West collectively is already beginning to use weapons with a nuclear component.”
Belarus is one of Russia’s allies in the continent, with Lukashenko letting Russian troops move through the country ahead of the invasion of Ukraine. The Belarusian routes were important enough to Russian build up that hackers tried to disrupt troop movement by targeting Belarusian rail lines. Lukashenko oversaw a violent crackdown on protests in his country after a contested election in 2020. The Belarusian military also loves to film its drills and exercises, featuring everything from the Mortal Kombat theme song to soldiers breakdancing as a show of martial prowess.