Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko declared Tuesday that his country had already received some of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons and warned that he wouldn’t hesitate to order their use if Belarus faced an act of aggression.
The brash comments from Lukashenko contradicted earlier statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Russian nuclear weapons would be deployed to Belarus next month and emphasized that they would remain under Moscow’s exclusive control.
Earlier this year, Putin announced the planned deployment of short-range nuclear weapons to Moscow’s neighbor and ally Belarus in a move widely seen as a warning to the West as it stepped up military support for Ukraine.
During his meeting Friday with Lukashenko, Putin said work on building facilities for the weapons would be completed by July 7-8, and they would be moved to Belarusian territory quickly after that.
Lukashenko said Tuesday that “everything is ready” for the Russian nuclear weapons’ deployment, adding that “it could take just a few days for us to get what we had asked for and even a bit more.”
Asked later by a Russian state TV host whether Belarus had already received some of the weapons, Lukashenko responded coyly by saying: “Not all of them, little by little.”
“We have got the missiles and bombs from Russia,” he said, adding that the Russian nuclear weapons to be deployed to Belarus are three times more powerful than the U.S. atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
“God forbid I have to make a decision to use those weapons today, but there would be no hesitation if we face an aggression,” Lukashenko, known for his blustering statements, said in comments released by his office earlier Tuesday.
Speaking later Tuesday in remarks broadcast by Russian state TV, he clarified that he would consult with Putin before using any of the weapons.
“Listen, if a war starts, do you think I will look around?” he said. “I pick up the phone, and wherever he is, he picks it up,” Lukashenko said in a reference to Putin. “If he calls, I pick it up any time. It’s no problem at all to coordinate launching a strike.”
Russian officials had no immediate comment on Lukashenko’s remarks.
Lukashenko emphasized that it was he who had asked Putin to deploy Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus. He argued that the move was necessary to deter a potential aggression.
“I believe no one would be willing to fight a country that has those weapons,” Lukashenko said. “Those are weapons of deterrence.”
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield. They have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads fitted to intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
Lukashenko said that Belarus didn’t need the deployment of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons to its territory. “Am I going to fight America? No,” he said.
He added, however, that Belarus was readying facilities for intercontinental nuclear-tipped missiles as well, just in case.
Along with Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Belarus hosted a significant share of Soviet nuclear arsenals when they were all part of the Soviet Union. Those weapons were withdrawn to Russia after the 1991 Soviet collapse under a deal sponsored by the U.S.
Russia didn’t say how many of its tactical nuclear weapons would be sent to Belarus. The U.S. government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
Russia used Belarus’ territory to send its troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and has kept forces and weapons on the territory of its ally. Lukashenko said Tuesday that Belarus would bolster production of unguided rockets for multiple rocket launchers
Lukashenko, who has been in power for 29 years, has relied on Russia’s political and economic support to survive months of protests, mass arrests and Western sanctions following an election in 2020 that kept him in power but was widely seen at home and abroad as rigged.