TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be deployed close to Belarus’ borders with NATO neighbors, the Russian ambassador to Belarus said Sunday amid simmering tensions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Ambassador Boris Gryzlov’s comment followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent statement about plans to station tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Russia’s neighbor and ally. The announcement marked another attempt by the Russian leader to dangle the nuclear threat to discourage the West from supporting Ukraine.
Putin has said that construction of storage facilities for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus will be complete by July 1 and added that Russia has helped modernize Belarusian warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The two neighbors have an agreement envisioning close economic, political and military ties. Russia used Belarusian territory as a staging ground for invading Ukraine and has maintained a contingent of troops and weapons there.
Gryzlov, speaking in remarks broadcast late Sunday by Belarusian state television, said the Russian nuclear weapons will be “moved up close to the Western border of our union state” but did not give any precise location.
“It will expand our defense capability, and it will be done regardless of all the noise in Europe and the United States,” he said in a reference to Western criticism of Putin’s decision.
Belarus shares a 1,250-kilometer (778-mile) border with NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Tactical nuclear weapons, which are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield, have a relatively short range and a much lower yield compared with nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
The deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus would put them closer to potential targets in Ukraine and NATO members in Eastern and Central Europe.
Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday that some of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed to Belarus along with part of Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal.