Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Tuesday that he wouldn’t hesitate to order the use of Russian tactical nuclear weapons that are set to be deployed to Belarus if his country faces an aggression.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the planned deployment of short-range nuclear weapons to Moscow’s neighbor and ally Belarus in a move widely seen as a warning to the West as it stepped up military support for Ukraine.
Putin has emphasized that Russia will retain control of them, but Lukashenko’s statement contradicted that.
“God forbid I have to make a decision to use those weapons today, but there would be no hesitation if we face an aggression,” Lukashenko, known for his blustery statements, said, according to the state news agency BelTA.
Russian officials had no immediate comment on Lukashenko’s remarks.
Lukashenko emphasized that it was he who had asked Putin to deploy Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus. He argued that the move was necessary to deter a potential aggression.
“I believe no one would be willing to fight a country that has those weapons,” Lukashenko said. “Those are weapons of deterrence.”
Putin said during Friday’s meeting with Lukashenko that work on building facilities for the nuclear weapons will be completed by July 7-8, and they will be moved to Belarusian territory quickly after that.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield. They have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads fitted to intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
Lukashenko said that Belarus doesn’t need Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons to be deployed to its territory. “Am I going to fight America? No,” he said.
The Belarusian leader added, however, that Belarus was readying facilities for intercontinental nuclear-tipped missiles as well, just in case.
Along with Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Belarus hosted a significant share of Soviet nuclear arsenals when they were all part of the Soviet Union. Those weapons were withdrawn to Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse under a deal sponsored by the U.S.
Russia didn’t say how many of its tactical nuclear weapons would be sent to Belarus. The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
Russia used Belarus’ territory to send its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and has kept forces and weapons on the territory of its ally.
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 29 years, has relied on Russia’s political and economic support to survive months of protests, mass arrests and Western sanctions following an election in 2020 that kept him in power but was widely seen at home and abroad as rigged.