A senior US defense official has called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cavalier” language regarding nuclear-capable missile systems promised to Belarus “rather irresponsible”.
“Our strategic forces are still monitoring things in this regard,” the official said in a phone call with reporters. “We certainly take this seriously and have taken this threat seriously from the very beginning.”
Here is the full quote:
“Certainly any time someone uses the word nuclear you have concerns. Frankly, it seems pretty irresponsible for a national leader to talk about the use of nuclear weapons and to do so in a generally cavalier fashion. As far as my concerns, aside from them talking, again, I mean the way that statement read from Putin was, hey, we’re gonna give them Iskanders, and oh by the way, they can hold nuclear weapons. And everyone takes that very seriously when you use that language. So we certainly take this seriously and have taken this threat seriously from the very beginning. And as you know, our strategic forces are always monitoring things in this regard.
A little more context: Russia will transfer nuclear-capable Iskander-M missile systems to Belarus over the next few months, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday during a meeting in St. Petersburg.
“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus the Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which, as you know, can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” said Putin told Lukashenko, according to the Kremlin. .
In a transcript of the meeting, Lukashenko expressed to Putin his ‘stress’ and concerns over what he claims were US flights and NATO planes ‘practicing to carry nuclear warheads’ near from the Belarusian border.
Lukashenko asked Putin to consider “a mirror response” to the flights or to convert the Russian Su-35 fighter jets, which are currently deployed in Belarus, so that “they can carry nuclear warheads”.
Putin replied that although it is possible to match the American flights, “it is not necessary”, and suggested this because the Belarusian army has a large number of Su-25 planes which can be converted to nuclear-capable aircraft instead.
“This modernization should be carried out at aircraft factories in Russia, but we will agree with you on how to do it. And accordingly, start training the flight crew,” Putin said.
The Iskander-M is a Russian-made short-range ballistic missile system that can carry conventional or nuclear warheads with a maximum range of 500 km (310 miles), according to Janes Defense.
The weapon uses both optical and inertial guidance systems to strike its targets, hitting them with a range of warheads, such as cluster munitions, vacuum bombs, bunker-busters and warheads electromagnetic pulse (EMP), according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
The Iskander-M was first used in 2008 during the Russia-Georgia conflict, when the Russian military used it to hit targets in Gori, according to the alliance.
Mariya Knight and Jonny Hallam contributed to this report