Russia to 'deploy tactical nuclear weapons' in Belarus

Date for deployment was made as Ukraine's counter-offensive appears to have begun

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met in the Russian resort city of Sochi. AP
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Russia will start deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus once facilities are ready on July 7-8, President Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko on Friday.

“So, everything is according to plan, everything is stable,” Mr Putin said in a meeting in Sochi.

Mr Putin said the US and its Western allies are pumping weapons into Ukraine as part of a proxy war aimed at bringing Russia to its knees.

“Preparation of the relevant facilities ends on July 7-8, and we will immediately begin activities related to the deployment of appropriate types of weapons on your territory,” according to Kremlin transcript of the meeting.

The announcement came as Ukraine's long-awaited counter-offensive appears to have begun.

It appears Nato-trained units and western tanks are spearheading the ground offensive, based on images emerging from the front line.

Images posted by Russian military bloggers, which appear genuine, show Nato-standard battle tanks and fighting vehicles pushing towards Tokmak in Ukraine’s occupied south.

Kyiv has maintained a strict silence about its much-anticipated counter-attack, but three senior US officials were quoted in reports on Thursday confirming the operation was under way.

Russia claimed to have repelled fierce Ukrainian offensives in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions, killing more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops and destroying dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles.

Russia's top military brass briefed Mr Putin on Thursday to say that their troops had successfully pushed back a series of attacks which Moscow says are part of a so-far unsuccessful counter-offensive by Ukraine since Sunday.

“The armed forces of Ukraine continued attempts to conduct offensive operations in the southern Donetsk and Zaporozhzhia directions,” the Russian defence ministry said.

Mr Putin and Mr Lukashenko had previously agreed the plan to station Russian land-based short-range nuclear missiles on the territory of Moscow's close ally, where they will remain under Russian command.

On Friday, the only words made public from Mr Lukashenko were: “Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich.”

Mr Putin announced the planned deployment of nuclear weapons in March, the first time since the mid-1990s that Moscow will have such arms stationed outside the country.

Experts said then that the development was significant because previously Russia had boasted that, unlike the US, it did not deploy nuclear weapons outside its borders.

“This is part of Putin's game to try to intimidate Nato … because there is no military utility from doing this in Belarus as Russia has so many of these weapons and forces inside Russia,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.

British sanctions on Belarus were extended on Thursday io close a loophole in sanctions on Belarus and Russia.

Gold, banknotes, machinery, goods, technologies and materials that could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons will also now be blocked.

The initial days of the counter-offensive have been overshadowed by a humanitarian disaster after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam holding back the waters of the Dnipro river that bisects Ukraine.

Thousands have been forced to evacuate flooded homes, while vast nature reserves have been wiped out and the destruction to irrigation systems is likely to cripple agriculture across much of southern Ukraine.

Nine countries possess nuclear weapons: Russia, the US, Britain, France, India, Pakistan, China, North Korea and Israel.

Several other Nato countries – including Turkey, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy – allow US warheads to be stationed on their soil.

Updated: June 09, 2023, 2:23 PM