Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that his country had sent the first nuclear weapons to Belarus as part of a plan to deploy tactical nuclear bombs in the country bordering Ukraine.
Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin said the rest of the nuclear weapons would be delivered by the end of this summer. “This is a deterrent measure [contra] all those who think about Russia and its strategic defeat,” he said in response to a question about the use of nuclear weapons in war.
Putin’s comments follow those of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko about having received the first part of “bombs and missiles from Russia.”
“God forbid I have to make the decision to use those weapons today, but I would not hesitate if we were faced with aggression,” Lukashenko said in a statement.
The move was first announced by both presidents last March. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Belarus was one of four former members of the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, that transferred nuclear weapons to Russia.
The return of nuclear weapons to Belarus marks the first transfer of nuclear weapons since the extinction of the Soviet Union.
The weapons that Moscow is transferring are short-range tactical nuclear weapons, which have a lower yield than nuclear warheads mounted on ballistic missiles, but are capable of causing damage that far exceeds that of the bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan in World War II.
Putin, who has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons during the war against Ukraine, criticized the United States as the only country to launch nuclear weapons on another. When asked about the transfer decision, he said he did not want to “scare the whole world” and maintained that nuclear weapons would only be used in self-defense.
“These measures can only be used if there is a threat to the Russian state,” he said. “All means in our hands will be used against him.”
Associated Press/ The Hill/ OnCuba