On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow will provide Belarus with nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles in the coming months after Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko expressed concern over NATO flights near Belarusian territory.
“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin said at a meeting with Lukashenko.
At the meeting, Lukashenko asked if Russia could help Belarus to upgrade its fighter jets so that they’re capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
“We are very concerned about training flights by the US and NATO airplanes, which practice carrying nuclear warheads and nuclear weapons,” Lukashenko said. “Therefore, I ask you to consider an equivalent response to these actions, without overdoing it.”
Putin pledged Russia would help and said Belarus’ Su-25 planes could be “re-equipped” to carry nuclear warheads.
A Pentagon official responded to Putin’s pledges to Belarus, accusing the Russian leader of being “irresponsible” in his language. At this point, it’s not clear if the Iskanders Russia plans to send to Belarus will be nuclear-armed, but the Pentagon official said Putin’s comments were “threatening” nonetheless.
While the US, France, and Britain are the only NATO states with a nuclear arsenal of their own, Washington has the arms stationed in other countries under NATO’s nuclear-sharing agreement. Under the deal, the US has nuclear warheads in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Lukashenko has offered to host Russian nuclear weapons if NATO nukes move further east, a sign of the countries’ growing ties. Russia and Belarus have grown closer together since the US and the EU rejected the results of the 2020 Belarusian election, which saw Lukashenko win another term. Since the election, the Western powers have ramped up sanctions on Belarus and thrown support behind an exiled opposition leader.
The closer ties between Russia and Belarus allowed Putin to use Belarusian territory to launch the initial phase of his invasion of Ukraine. Over the weekend, Ukrainian officials said Russian airstrikes were launched from Belarus for the first time, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to threaten Belarusian soldiers that are helping Russia.