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Russia to deploy "tactical nuclear weapons" in Belarus, on Ukraine's northern border, Putin says

Russia to station nuclear weapons in Belarus
Putin announces agreement to station nuclear weapons in Belarus 01:50

Russia has ratcheted up tensions with the West amid its ongoing war against Ukraine, with President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow will deploy "tactical nuclear weapons" in Belarus. The Russian leader said 10 fighter jets capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons — generally a reference to smaller weapons used for limited battlefield attacks, rather than larger, long-range "strategic" nuclear weapons — were already deployed in Belarus. Putin said Russia would also position nuclear-armed Iskander hypersonic missiles, with a range of around 300 miles, in Belarus.

The move wasn't completely unexpected. As Putin's ground war in Ukraine has struggled in recent months to make significant gains, he has repeatedly threatened to resort to nuclear weapons. But announcing a new deployment of such weapons represented an escalation in his rhetoric, and it drew quick condemnation from the West.

Russia Military
A photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Jan. 31, 2022 shows a Russian Su-30SM2 fighter jet taking off from the airfield in Chernyakhovsk, in Russia's far western enclave of Kaliningrad.  Russian Ministry of Defense handout/AP

The Russian autocrat argued that he was merely doing what the U.S. and NATO have done for years, as the U.S.-led alliance has nuclear-armed missiles deployed in Western Europe.

NATO called that justification by Putin misleading.

China's President Xi wraps 3-day visit to Russia 06:10

"Russia's nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible," Oana Lungescu, a spokesperson for the alliance, said Sunday. "Russia's reference to NATO's nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments… Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments."

"NATO is vigilant and we are closely monitoring the situation," Lungescu said in the statement, adding that the alliance had not, however, "seen any changes in Russia's nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own."

The Biden administration issued a similarly guarded response, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying Sunday that the White House had also "seen nothing that would indicate Mr. Putin is preparing to use tactical nuclear weapons in any way whatsoever in Ukraine."

"I can also tell you that we haven't seen anything that would cause us to change our own strategic nuclear deterrent posture," Kirby said.

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Ukrainian national security chief Oleksiy Danilov accused Russia of holding its small ally Belarus, which sits just north of Ukraine, "hostage" with the plan to deploy nuclear weapons in the country.

The escalating rhetoric from Putin comes as his ground war increasingly appears stalled on the muddy battlefields of eastern Ukraine. The hard-fought over city of Bakhmut — which for months has borne the brunt of the onslaught as Ukrainian forces cling onto it and Moscow throws wave after wave of soldiers and mercenaries at the front line — has been blasted beyond recognition.

Russian advance stalls in Bakhmut 02:02

The "situation" in the battle, after Russia's relentless eight-month assault, is finally "stabilizing," according to Ukraine's top army commander. Both sides have acknowledged a gruelling toll during the fight, but the latest British military intelligence assessment said Russia in particular had sustained "massive troop losses."

As the U.S. and its European allies steadily increase the flow of heavy weapons into Ukraine to help the country defend against Russia's invasion and Putin raises the tension with his announcement about nuclear weapons in Belarus, Moscow blamed an explosion deep inside Russian territory on Ukraine.

The Kremlin claimed it had downed a Ukrainian drone only about 100 miles south of Moscow on Sunday, with the unmanned aircraft purportedly crashing down to injure three people and leaving a crater 16 feet deep, with damage to nearby buildings.

Putin's latest nuclear threat, meanwhile, prompted Ukraine to demand an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, with Kyiv arguing that Moscow has now demonstrated it is "not a responsible steward" of nuclear weapons, and is only using them for intimidation.

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