Belarus would be willing to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons on its territory to strengthen its defense capabilities in response to what it sees as security threats from Western nations amid the war in Ukraine, the country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement reported by the state news media on Tuesday.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had said in an interview broadcast on national television on Sunday that he would be able to position tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a close ally, by the summer. Although analysts said the claim was likely bluster, it underscored the Kremlin’s willingness to use nuclear saber-rattling in an attempt to put pressure on Ukraine’s allies to back down from their support of Kyiv.
Belta, Belarus’s state news agency, reported that the country’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday in support of Mr. Putin’s move. It said that in recent years Belarus had been “subjected to unprecedented political, economic and information pressure” by the United States, Britain, their NATO allies and countries of the European Union.
“Taking into account these circumstances and the legitimate national security concerns and risks arising from them, Belarus is forced to respond in order to strengthen its own security and defense capability,” the statement said, according to Belta. “Military cooperation between Belarus and Russia is in strict compliance with international law,” it added.
Western officials condemned Mr. Putin’s remarks as dangerous and irresponsible, and Ukraine called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address what it called “the latest provocation” by Russia. But U.S. officials have said that they have seen no effort by Moscow to move or employ its nuclear weapons and still believe that the risk of their use is low.
Mr. Putin had floated the idea of stationing Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus last year. In the interview broadcast on Sunday, he provided new details, saying that 10 Belarusian warplanes had been retrofitted to carry Russian nuclear weapons and that a storage facility for the warheads would be ready by July 1.
Mr. Putin said that the nuclear warheads that Russia intended to position in Belarus were of the “tactical” variety. These weapons have lower explosive power than the “strategic” variety, which can threaten entire cities. But it remained unclear whether Mr. Putin would follow through with the idea, and he was vague on any timeline.
In the interview, he portrayed the initiative as “nothing unusual,” pointing out that the United States had long deployed its own nuclear weapons within the borders of its European allies. The Russian leader also said that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus had requested the Russian move.
Mr. Lukashenko — who relies on Russia for financial, fuel and security assistance to maintain his grip on power — has not publicly commented on Mr. Putin’s latest remarks, but he said last year that Russia was welcome to move nuclear weapons to Belarus.
Mr. Lukashenko allowed Russian forces to use Belarusian territory as a staging ground for Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as well as for training soldiers and ferrying supplies. He has railed against “possible aggression against our country” by NATO and Ukraine, but, facing opposition at home, he has resisted getting involved in the conflict directly.
Still, Belarus has moved further into Russia’s orbit over the past year, with the Kremlin taking steps to increase aid to its neighbor in a bid to more closely integrate the two post-Soviet countries, and perhaps even bring them to the brink of what analysts have described as a full-blown merger.
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