Belarus has started to receive tactical nuclear weapons from Russia, its leader has said.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Russian state TV that his country is taking delivery of the weapons, some of which he said were three times more powerful than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
“We have missiles and bombs that we have received from Russia,” he said in an interview.
It comes after Mr Lukashenko seemed to contradict Vladimir Putin over their potential use.
The Russian leader had emphasised that Moscow will retain control of their use, but Mr Lukashenko said he wouldn’t hesitate to use them if Belarus faced aggression.
The deployment is Moscow’s first move of such warheads – shorter-range less powerful nuclear weapons that could potentially be used on the battlefield – outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
It’s a development that is being watched closely by the United States and its allies as well as by China, which has repeatedly cautioned against the use of nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war.
Lukashenko also said separately on Tuesday that the nuclear weapons would be physically deployed on the territory of Belarus “in several days” and that he had the facilities to host longer-range missiles too if ever needed.
Ostracised by much of Europe and the West, Belarus and Russia have deepened ties as the war in Ukraine has continued.
Moscow has been quietly increasing its influence and control over Belarus with a possible view, some say, of eventually making the former Soviet country part of Russia.