Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks on the phone in his office in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on December 15, 2018.
Aleksey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
Putin said Saturday on state-sponsored media that he planned to store nuclear weapons in Belarus.
He said the “tactical” supply will be housed in a storage facility which should be constructed by July.
Belarus aided the invasion of Ukraine by allowing Russian troops to invade from its southern border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his most decisive nuclear messaging since beginning the invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, told state media he plans to store tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus.
Belarus, a Russian ally and neighbor to Ukraine, aided the invasion by allowing Russian troops to enter Ukraine from its southern border. Putin told state television station Russia-1 he plans to build a new storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons on the ally’s soil, set to be completed by July 1, CNN reported.
“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,” Reuters reported Putin said, adding: “We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.”
NPR reported US officials said the country would “monitor the implications” of Putin’s announcement.
While Putin has made veiled nuclear threats since the start of Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine, his recent statements are a notable escalation. In September, Putin made a veiled reference to nuclear weapons while vowing to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity,” emphasizing that his words were “not a bluff.”
“It’s a very significant move,” Reuters reported Nikolai Sokol, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, said. “Russia had always been very proud that it had no nuclear weapons outside its territory. So, now, yes, they are changing that and it’s a big change.”
Belarus is largely seen as a Russian puppet state, Insider previously reported, with the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, considered one of Putin’s closest allies. The two countries’ diplomatic ties have only grown stronger since the onset of the war in Ukraine.
A leaked 2021 document from Putin’s executive office, obtained last month by a group of European journalists from outlets across the continent, indicated the Russian leader has plans to annex Belarus by 2030, though it is not clear if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has interfered with the plan at all.
Representatives for the Kremlin did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.