Moscow says it will retain arms control, but Ukraine accuses Russia of taking Minsk “hostage”.
Moscow and Minsk have signed an agreement to formalize the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear missiles on Belarusian territory.
Russia said on Thursday that the move was prompted by rising tensions with the West.
“Against the backdrop of an extremely sharp escalation of threats to the western borders of Russia and Belarus, it was decided to take countermeasures in the military-nuclear sphere,” Russian news agency TASS said. , quoting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. .
The deployment of the missiles was first announced by President Vladimir Putin in March.
Since invading Ukraine last year, Putin has repeatedly said that Russia would be ready to use nuclear weapons if necessary to defend its “territorial integrity”.
NATO said at the time it saw no need to adjust its own nuclear posture, although the military alliance called Putin’s nuclear rhetoric “dangerous and irresponsible”.
But Richard Weitz, a Washington, DC-based foreign and defense policy analyst, told Al Jazeera that Russia was unlikely to benefit “in a purely military sense”.
“Russia already has thousands of nuclear weapons, and some of them are already deployed on the ground or on planes, near where Belarusian facilities are likely to be located. So it adds a few more locations to what Russia already has,” he said.
“It’s a political signal… The Russian government at the highest level will issue statements warning of the risk of nuclear war if NATO gives Patriots to Ukraine, gives F-16s to Ukraine.
“It’s a way of reminding the West that Russia is this great nuclear power and that the West had better be careful or we could fall into a nuclear war.
“(That too) helps them strengthen ties or control over Belarus in the sense that the weapons are there. This is another reason why the security of Belarus is linked to Russia, but I think the main reason is part of this bullying campaign.
Ukraine has said Russia’s ally Belarus has been “held hostage” by Moscow.
In March, Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, called the deal “a step towards internal destabilization” of Belarus, and said it maximized what he called the level of “negative perception and public rejection” of Russia and Putin in Belarusian society. “The Kremlin has taken Belarus as a nuclear hostage,” he wrote on Twitter.
Moscow will retain control of the weapons and any decisions regarding their use, Shoigu said.
TASS quoted him as saying that Iskander-M missiles, which can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, had been handed over to the Belarusian armed forces and some Su-25 aircraft had been converted for possible use of nuclear weapons.
“Belarusian servicemen received the necessary training in Russian training centers,” Shoigu said.
He added that the agreements signed with his Belarusian counterpart covered the procedure for creating a “special nuclear weapons storage facility on Belarusian territory”.
Tactical nuclear weapons refer to low-yield weapons designed for use on the battlefield, as opposed to strategic weapons capable of wiping out entire cities. Russia has not disclosed how many tactical nuclear weapons it has.