Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia would begin stationing nuclear warheads in Belarus in July, apparently contradicting his ally Alexander Lukashenko who announced last month that such a transfer had already begun.
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“As you know, the planning of facilities (which accommodate nuclear weapons) will be completed on July 7 or 8, and we will immediately take steps related to the deployment of the weapons in question on your territory,” Putin said during a meeting. Interview with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi (southwest Russia).
“Everything is going according to plan,” the Russian president added during that exchange, part of which was broadcast live on television.
So this deployment must begin before the NATO summit scheduled for July 11-12 in Lithuania, the country bordering Belarus, during which Ukraine’s candidacy will be at the center of the discussions.
Mr. Putin announced on March 25 that Moscow would deploy “tactical” nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, a country on the European Union’s doorstep, sparking fears of an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
The so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons can cause huge damage, but the radius of their destruction is more limited than the range of destruction of “strategic” nuclear weapons.
The announcement sparked criticism from the international community, and Westerners in particular, especially since the Russian leader, since the start of his attack on his Ukrainian neighbor in February 2022, raised the possibility of resorting to nuclear weapons.
In early April, Russia said it had begun training Belarusian soldiers in the use of “tactical” nuclear weapons.
At the end of May, Mr. Lukashenko confirmed that the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus had already begun.
“The transfer of nuclear cargo has begun, it has already begun,” he said.
Belarus is not directly involved on the ground in Ukraine but has lent its territory to the Russian army so it can launch its offensive in February 2022.
After his hotly contested re-election in 2020, Lukashenko, who has held power for nearly three decades, has grown closer to Moscow, which provides financial, diplomatic and military support to his regime.