Russia formalizes agreement to deploy nuclear weapons in Europe

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russia and Belarus on Thursday signed an agreement formalizing the procedure for deploying Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory. Arms control will remain in Moscow.

The move formalized the agreement reached earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Putin previously announced in March that his country planned to deploy tactical, relatively short-range, low-yield nuclear weapons in Belarus. The signing of the agreement comes as Russia prepares for Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive.

Russian and Belarusian officials called the step motivated by Western hostility.

“The deployment of non-strategic nuclear weapons is an effective response to the aggressive policy of countries that are hostile to us,” Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said in Minsk during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu.

“In the context of an extremely sharp escalation of threats to the western borders of Russia and Belarus, it was decided to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere,” Shoigu added.

The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the agreement referred to a “special storage facility on the territory of the Republic of Belarus”.

No details were announced about when the weapons would be deployed in Belarus, but Putin had previously said construction of tactical nuclear weapons storage facilities in Belarus would be completed by July 1.

Belarusian opposition leader in exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya condemned the decision.

“We must do everything to prevent Putin’s plan to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, as this will secure Russian control over Belarus for years to come,” Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press. “This will further compromise the security of Ukraine and all of Europe.”

Independent Belarusian military analyst Aliaksandr Alesin said about two-thirds of Russia’s arsenal of medium-range nuclear-tipped missiles was held in Belarus during the Cold War, adding that there are dozens of storage facilities from the Soviet era that could still be used to store these weapons.

Soviet nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were transferred to Russia under a US-brokered deal after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“Documents in Minsk on the return of nuclear weapons were defiantly signed just as Ukraine declared a counter-offensive and Western countries handed over weapons to Kiev,” Alesin told the AP.

“This Belarusian nuclear balcony should spoil the mood for Western politicians, because nuclear missiles are capable of covering Ukraine, all of Poland, the Baltic states and parts of Germany.”

Khrenin also announced his intention to “strengthen the combat potential of the regional grouping of Russian and Belarusian troops”, including the transfer to Minsk of the Iskander-M missile system, capable of carrying a nuclear charge, and anti-aircraft S-400. missile system.

Russia and Belarus have an alliance agreement under which the Kremlin subsidizes the Belarusian economy, via loans and discounted Russian oil and gas. Russia used Belarusian territory as a starting point to invade neighboring Ukraine and maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.


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