Vladimir Putin has announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus for the first time, shifting his most destructive weapons closer to Europe and Kyiv.
The move represents the first time Russia will store part of its nuclear arsenal in another country since the breakup of the Soviet Union.
“We agreed with Lukashenko that we would place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus without violating the nonproliferation regime,” he said in an interview for a Russian TV broadcast on Saturday evening.
Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, is a staunch supporter of Mr Putin and allowed Russia to use Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion of Ukraine.
He has resisted Mr Putin’s pressure to directly enter the war but has allowed Russian warplanes to use Belarusian airspace to fire missiles at Ukrainian targets.
Last year, too, the Russian military upgraded Belarus’ air force so that it was capable of firing missiles with nuclear warheads and in February, Belarus’ military said that it had taken delivery of Iskander missile launchers from Russia which are capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles.
Mr Putin said that he wasn’t breaking any international treaties because we are “doing what the US has been doing for decades”.
The US stations nuclear missiles in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Earlier this year, Russia pulled out of the Start Nuclear Treaty, the last remaining treaty with the US aimed at stopping nuclear arms proliferation.
Russia is already suspected of stationing nuclear weapons in its European enclave of Kaliningrad, which is wedged between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, and has said that it has developed a missile called Satan-2 that can fire a nuclear warhead at any city in the world within minutes of being launched from Russia.