Vladimir Putin has said Russia will supply nuclear-capable Iskander-M missile systems to its ally Belarus on Ukraine’s border.
“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Mr Putin said in a meeting held with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday in St Petersburg.
The announcement came the same day Ukraine said it came under a “massive bombardment” of missile strikes launched from Belarusian territory, despite the latter not officially being a party to the conflict.
Belarus said it requested the missile systems, as well as an upgrade to its air force, because it had concerns about what it called the “aggressive”, “confrontational” and “repulsive” policies of its Nato-member neighbours Lithuania and Poland.
Mr Lukashenko asked Mr Putin to help in bolstering Belarus’ defence to combat what he said were nuclear-armed flights by the US-led Nato alliance near Belarus’s borders.
“Minsk must be ready for anything, even the use of serious weaponry to defend our fatherland from Brest to Vladivostok,” he said, putting Belarus and its close ally Russia under one umbrella.
In particular, he asked for help to make Belarus’s military aircraft nuclear-capable.
The details and logistics of the weapons transfer would be discussed by the defence ministers of the two countries later, the Russian president said in his televised address.
The Iskander-M is a mobile guided missile system codenamed “SS-26 Stone” by Nato, which replaced the Soviet “Scud”.
Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 km and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
Mr Putin also said Russia would help Belarus upgrade its fleet of Su-25 fighter jets to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
“This modernisation should be carried out in aircraft factories in Russia and the training of personnel should start in accordance with this,” he added.
Belarus has been a key player in Russia’s battle plans and Mr Lukashenko has been one of the biggest supporters of Mr Putin at a time when the most countries around the world have condemned Moscow’s invasion. The country served as a staging ground for Russian troops to invade on 24 February.
This is not the first time the mention of nuclear weapons has emerged from Russia or its allies. Mr Putin has made several threats about using nuclear since the start of the war in Ukraine, which has now entered its fifth month.
Additional reporting by agencies
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