The presence of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus does not increase the risk of nuclear conflict in Ukraine, according to an assessment by a Polish think tank.
“It will, however, be another confirmation of the incorporation of Belarus into the Russian military space,” said a report from the Center for Eastern Studies (OSW) in Warsaw.
“Moscow’s actions are facilitated by the constitutional resignation of Belarus from the status of a nuclear-free state, which allows for the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons on its territory.”
President Vladimir Putin this week said Russia plans to finish the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons by July, with staff training to begin on April 3.
His remarks came as a response to the UK’s announcement that it will give Ukraine tank munitions with depleted uranium.
Belarus is among Moscow’s closest allies and some fear it will be used as a launching ground for a fresh offensive.
Belarus has had no nuclear weapons on its territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Belarusian propagandists have praised the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons.
“Enemies, are you squealing? Belarus is a nuclear state! A state that, in the event of an attack on its territory, can respond with tactical nuclear weapons,” 28-year-old Ryhor Azaronak said on state television.
“Warsaw will melt and Vilnius will sink. We will watch the dull sunset and how the mushroom cloud will float over the Polish swamp. Don’t move, gentlemen, or we’ll irradiate you. You forced us, so don’t complain – you’ve been warned,” he said.
Ukraine and its allies led by the US have condemned the Moscow's decision to station nukes in Belarus.
However, the US said it has not “seen any movement of any tactical nuclear weapons or anything of that kind since this announcement (by Putin).”
“We certainly haven’t seen any indication that Mr. Putin has made some sort of decision to use weapons of mass destruction, let alone nuclear weapons inside Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing on Monday.
By Jo Harper in Warsaw