Belarus has reportedly begun receiving Russian tactical nuclear weapons, some of which are three times more powerful than the atomic bombs detonated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, this is Moscow's first deployment of such warheads - shorter-range, less powerful nuclear weapons that could potentially be used on the battlefield - outside of Russia.
"We have received missiles and bombs from Russia," Lukashenko said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 Russian state TV channel that was posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Belta state news agency.
"The bombs are three times more powerful than those (dropped on) Hiroshima and Nagasaki," he said, standing on a road in a forest clearing with military vehicles parked nearby and a military storage facility visible in the backdrop.
On Friday, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, announced that Russia, which will retain control of the tactical nuclear weapons, will begin deploying them in Belarus as soon as special storage facilities are prepared.
The Russian leader announced in March that he had consented to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, citing the decades-long U.S. deployment of similar weapons in numerous European nations.
The United States has criticized Putin's decision but stated that it has no intention of changing its position on strategic nuclear weapons and has seen no indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons.
The United States, its allies, and China, which have repeatedly warned against using nuclear weapons in the Ukraine conflict, are intently observing the Russian action.
'We Have Always Been a Target'
In an interview that aired late Tuesday night on Russian state television, Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, stated that his country had numerous Soviet-era nuclear storage facilities and had restored five or six of them.
He dismissed the notion that Russian control of the weapons would prevent him from using them swiftly if necessary, stating that he and Putin could pick up the phone with each other "at any time."
Earlier on Tuesday, he had stated separately that the Russian tactical nuclear weapons would be physically deployed on Belarusian soil "in a few days" and that he had the infrastructure to host longer-range missiles, should the need arise.
The deployment of nuclear weapons will serve as a deterrent against potential aggressors, according to Lukashenko, who has allowed Russia to use his country to attack Ukraine as part of what Moscow terms its "special military operation."
Belarus shares a border with three NATO members: Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.
The 68-year-old former head of a Soviet collective farm, who has governed Belarus since 1994, making him Europe's longest-serving leader, stated that he "demanded" the weapons from Vladimir Putin.
"We have always been a target," stated Lukaschenko. "They (the West) have desired to dismember us since 2020. No one has yet fought against a nuclear nation that possesses nuclear weapons.
According to the opposition, Lukashenko has repeatedly accused the West of attempting to overthrow him after mass protests against his rule erupted in 2020 in response to a fraudulently won presidential election. Lukashenko asserted that he had won legitimately while instituting a massive crackdown against his opponents.