Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Moscow will deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus at the request of Minsk.
Announcing the decision, Putin compared the move to NATO’s nuclear sharing program, under which there are US nuclear weapons deployed to the territory of five allied countries: Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
“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 said. The Russian leader insisted the deployment wouldn’t violate Moscow’s non-proliferation commitments.
Putin also said the decision was related to the UK supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium rounds for its British-made Challenger 2 tanks. Depleted uranium ammunition is radioactive and is linked to cancer and birth defects, especially in Iraq, where US forces used an enormous number of the controversial munitions.
In response to the announcement, the US said it hasn’t seen any indication that Russia is planning to use nuclear weapons. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby also said the US hasn’t seen Russia move any nuclear weapons around yet.
Putin said that the plan is for Russia to build a facility in Belarus to store the nuclear weapons, which will be completed by July 1. Russia has previously provided Belarus with nuclear-capable Iskander missiles and is helping upgrade the country’s warplanes so they can carry nuclear warheads.
“We have already helped our Belarusian colleagues to reequip their planes. Ten planes are ready to apply this type of weapons. We have handed over to Belarus our well-known and very effective Iskander system that can carry [nuclear weapons],” Putin said.
US and NATO officials have said they don’t see a reason to adjust their own nuclear posture at this point. But one way NATO could respond to the deployment is by placing nuclear weapons in countries that are closer to Russia.
The US has not deployed nuclear weapons to countries east of Germany that joined NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, but some eastern European countries are willing to host nukes, including Poland. Finnish officials have also not ruled out the idea of hosting nuclear weapons, and Finland is poised to join NATO soon.