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Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has announced that shipments of tactical nuclear weapons for deployment in his country are complete, marking the first such placement outside of Russia’s borders.
This has sparked concerns in Poland and other countries in the region.
The shipments of these tactical nuclear weapons were completed in October, Mr Lukashenko revealed at a meeting of a Moscow-led economic bloc in St Petersburg. However, he did not share further details regarding the quantity of weapons sent and their specific deployment locations.
Russian troops stationed in Belarus invaded Ukraine from the north during the opening days of the war in February last year, but Belarusian forces are not known to have participated actively.
Mr Lukashenko justifies hosting Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil as a deterrent against aggression by Poland, a Nato member.
These short-range tactical nuclear weapons, designated for battlefield use, have a low yield of about 1 kiloton and impact compared to more powerful nuclear warheads fitted to long-range missiles.
Earlier this year, Mr Lukashenko confirmed Russia’s movement of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in the first such deployment on foreign soil since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia has said it will maintain control over the weapons placed in Belarus.
In May, the two countries signed a deal formalising the transfer of the weapons, though control over their use remains in the hands of the Kremlin.
The move was denounced by the White House as an “example of [Moscow] making irresponsible and provocative choices”.
The US 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. Such weapons have a relatively short range and lower yields than nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles. The US has approximately 200 of these tactical weapons, with half of them stationed at bases in Europe.
Belarus shares borders with three Nato members – Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Of these, Poland is an active ally of Kyiv and offers its neighbour military, humanitarian and political backing in the fight against Russia’s invasion. Poland is also participating in international sanctions against Russia and Belarus.