A senior White House official on Sunday said that there is no indication that Russia will station nuclear weapons in nearby Belarus after Russian President Vladimir Putin made a public pledge to do so a day earlier
“We have not seen any indication that he’s made good on this pledge, or moved any nuclear weapons around,” White House strategic communications coordinator John Kirby told CBS’ “Face the Nation” when asked about Putin’s comments.
Although not unexpected, the plan is one of Russia’s clearest nuclear signals since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine 13 months ago, and Ukrainian officials called for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council in response. While Washington, the world’s other nuclear superpower, played down concerns about Putin’s announcement, NATO said Moscow’s non-proliferation pledge and his description of U.S. weapons deployment overseas were way off the mark.
“Russia’s reference to NATO’s nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told Reuters on Sunday, adding, “Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments.”
During a state television event, Putin revealed plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, located next to Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Russian leader said that his military will have control of any weapons that are stationed in Belarus, which was used in part by Russian forces to help stage last year’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We are doing what they have been doing for decades, stationing them in certain allied countries, preparing the launch platforms and training their crews,” Putin said Saturday night, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. “We are going to do the same thing.”
Tactical nuclear weapons refer to those used for specific gains on a battlefield rather than those with the capacity to wipe out cities. It is unclear how many such weapons Russia has, given it is an area still shrouded in Cold War secrecy.
Putin told Russia 24TV that the nuclear site in Belarus will be ready by July 1. He did not say exactly when the weapons would be sent to Belarus.
But Washington appeared to see no change in the potential for Moscow to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, and it and NATO said the news would not affect their own nuclear position.
“We have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own,” Lungescu said.
Ukrainian officials, however, raised the alarm and said Putin’s recent statement undermines decades of nuclear disarmament efforts as well as the “international security system as a whole,” according to a statement issued by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on Sunday.
“Ukraine appeals to the Belarusian society to prevent implementing criminal intentions of deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus in violation of its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which will further turn the country into a Kremlin hostage and cause catastrophic consequences for its future,” the ministry said. The ministry also demanded a meeting of the United Nations Security Council over the possible nuclear deployment.
“We demand that an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. Security Council be immediately convened for this purpose,” the ministry stated, adding that Kyiv’s government is calling “on all members of the international community to convey the utmost unacceptability” of Russia’s nuclear plans.
On Saturday, Putin said that longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long requested the deployment. There was no immediate public reaction from Lukashenko.
While the Belarusian army has not formally fought in Ukraine, Minsk and Moscow have close military ties. It’s not clear if Belarus will ever send any of its troops into Ukraine.
According to Russian state media, Lukashenko has repeatedly claimed that European Union countries and the United States pose a nuclear threat to Belarus. In October of last year, he claimed the United States and Poland would engage in “nuclear sharing” and that U.S. nuclear weapons would be placed in Poland.
Reuters contributed to this report.