TALLINN, Estonia — Russian strategic nuclear weapons might be deployed in Belarus along with part of Russia's tactical nuclear arsenal, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last week that his country intended to deploy tactical, comparatively short-range and small-yield nuclear weapons in Belarus.
The strategic nuclear weapons such as missile-borne warheads that Lukashenko mentioned during his state-of-the nation address would pose an even greater threat, if Moscow moves them to the territory of its neighbor and ally.
Belarus was a staging ground for amassing Russian troops before the invasion of Ukraine a little over 13 months ago. Lukashenko, in office since 1994, delivered his annual address amid escalating tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.
Both he and Putin have alleged that Western powers want to ruin Russia and Belarus.
“Putin and I will decide and introduce here, if necessary, strategic weapons, and they must understand this, the scoundrels abroad, who today are trying to blow us up from inside and outside," the Belarusian leader said. "We will stop at nothing to protect our countries, our state and their peoples.”
“We will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary, including through the nuclear arsenal,” Lukashenko said . “Don’t say we will just be looking after them, and these are not our weapons. These are our weapons and they will contribute to ensuring sovereignty and independence.”
Earlier in the address, Lukashenko called for a cease-fire in Ukraine.
A truce must be announced without any preconditions, and all movement of troops and weapons must be halted, he said.
Belarus and Russia have intensified their cooperation since the start of the Ukraine war. The Russian military has used its troops and missiles stationed in Belarus, although no Belarusian troops have participated in the fighting.
Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan all relinquished nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the so-called Budapest Memorandum that accompanied giving up the weapons, Russia, the United States and Britain agreed to respect the territorial integrity of those countries.
Ukraine has repeatedly complained that Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the 2022 invasion violate that agreement.
Lukashenko said Friday that he did not want to lose his country's nuclear weapons but was pressured into doing so by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.