Moscow took Minsk as a “nuclear hostage” after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, the Ukrainian government said yesterday, as it blasted a plan that would bring the arms to a country at the gates of the EU.
Putin, who has issued thinly veiled warnings that Russia could use nuclear weapons if threatened, said the move was similar to the US transferring weapons to allies.
“The Kremlin took Belarus as a nuclear hostage,” Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov wrote on Twitter.
He added that the move was “a step towards the internal destabilization of the country.”
On Saturday, Putin announced Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons to neighbor and ally Belarus “without violating our international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation.”
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak accused the Russian leader of breaching such obligations.
Putin “admits that he is afraid of losing and all he can do is scare” people, Podolyak wrote on Twitter.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for almost 30 years, is a key Putin ally.
In February last year, Minsk allowed the Kremlin to launch its invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory.
Fears have since risen that Belarus might join its ally’s offensive, but Lukashenko said he would do so “only if attacked.”
In an interview broadcast on Saturday, Putin said the move to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus was “nothing unusual.”
“The United States has been doing this for decades. They have long placed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allies,” Putin said.
Putin said he spoke to Lukashenko, adding that they agreed “to do the same.”
Russia would start training crews on Monday next week and is planning to finish the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons by July 1, he said.
Putin has previously said that nuclear tensions were “rising” globally, but that Moscow would not deploy first.
He said renewed discussions with Lukashenko on the issue were spurred by a British official’s suggestion to send depleted uranium weapons to Ukraine.
Russia would respond if the West supplied Ukraine with such ammunition, he added.
“Russia of course has what it needs to answer. Without exaggeration, we have hundreds of thousands of such shells. We have not used them yet,” Putin said.
He said depleted uranium weapons “can be classified as the most harmful and hazardous for humans ... and also for the environment.”
Depleted uranium munitions are highly effective at piercing armor plate, but the metal is toxic for the soldiers who use them and civilians in areas where they are fired.
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