President Alexander Lukashenko said Thursday that Belarus would be willing to use nuclear weapons provided by its close ally Russia in the face of foreign “aggression”, as tensions rise over the country’s borders with NATO countries.
Minsk has played a key role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, with Moscow using Belarus as one of the launch pads for an invasion in early 2022, while joint Russia-Belarusian military exercises over the past year have raised fears of Belarusian forces joining Russian forces in the conflict.
In June, Russian nuclear warheads were reported to have been delivered to Belarus “for deterrence,” according to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview with state news agency Belta, Lukashenko claimed that Belarus will “never get involved in this war” unless Ukrainians cross its border. But he added: “We will continue to help Russia, they are our ally.”
He also warned that in the event of provocation – especially by neighboring NATO countries such as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – Belarus would “immediately respond with everything we have”, including nuclear weapons.
It is not clear how much of Russia’s nuclear arsenal was transferred to Belarus recently, and US and Western officials have not publicly confirmed that any weapons were transferred – although senior officials from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) said they had “no reason to suspect” Putin’s claim.
During the interview, Lukashenko said that if Belarus is attacked, “we will not falter, we will wait, and the rest. We will use our entire arsenal for deterrence.”
He added: “We did not bring nuclear weapons here to scare anyone.” Yes, nuclear weapons are a powerful deterrent. But these are tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones. That is why we will immediately use it once aggression is launched against us.”
Senior CIA officials said in July that they did not believe Lukashenko would have any control over the arsenal, which is likely to be entirely under Russia’s control.
Lukashenko’s latest comments come as Europe’s security landscape becomes increasingly volatile, with Belarus’ northern neighbors on guard over the presence of the Russian mercenary group Wagner – which is stationed in Belarus following a short-lived insurgency in Russia earlier this summer.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of Wagner’s forces moving towards a thin strip of land between Poland and Lithuania, in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on NATO and EU members.
Due to concerns about Wagner, Poland recently announced it would move about 10,000 troops to its border with Belarus, and has detained two Russians on charges of espionage and spreading propaganda for the Russian mercenary group.
Lithuania said Wednesday it would temporarily suspend operations at two of its six border checkpoints with Belarus over concerns about Wagner’s forces, with the interior minister citing “emerging threats to national security and potential provocations at the border”.
In response, Belarus criticized Lithuania for taking an “unconstructive and unfriendly step”, calling its own Wagner reasoning “far-fetched”.
During an interview Thursday, Lukashenko denied that Putin had been weakened by the failed Wagner rebellion, calling such allegations “total nonsense”.
Putin is now more mobilized, cunning and wiser. Our opponents need to know this, Lukashenko said, adding: “No one will overthrow Putin today.”
He also reiterated that his idea was to deploy Wagner fighters in Belarus. “In order to put out this rebellion and put out this fire, it was necessary to accept any terms because the rebellion would have been devastating to all,” he said.
The Polish ambassador says Poland is preparing for “increased aggressiveness” from Russia and Belarus
Lukashenko also addressed the ongoing war on Thursday, warning that Moscow would never give up the Crimean lands it illegally annexed from Ukraine more than seven years ago.
He said that while Russia is open to negotiations over Ukraine, it will “never return Crimea,” according to Bilta.
“It won’t happen. I now doubt that an agreement can be reached here in the east. But Russia is ready to discuss any issue. I know that for sure,” Lukashenko said.
However, he claimed that the Ukrainians are “pushed by the Americans” and do not want to negotiate at the moment, adding that the talks “should begin without preliminary conditions”. He added that any peace talks on Ukraine must include Belarus, because “we have our interests there, and our position should be heard.”
Russia seized Crimea by force in 2014 — shortly after helping Ukrainian protesters oust pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych — when thousands of Russian special operations forces in unmarked uniforms were deployed across the peninsula.
Two weeks later, Russia completed its annexation of Crimea in a referendum, and Ukraine and most countries in the world described it as illegitimate, and it was considered at that time the largest land grab in Europe since World War II.
Since the annexation, human rights observers have described Crimea’s descent into a police state, as local authorities and Russian security services persecute and arrest those perceived to be pro-Ukrainians, including members of the Crimean Tatar community.
The 2020 US State Chapter Report described a pattern of human rights abuses in Crimea by Russia or Russian-led authorities, including unlawful or arbitrary killings and enforced disappearances.
The occupied territories have since become a major part of the war in Ukraine, with the Crimean Bridge – connecting the peninsula to mainland Russia – a vital supply link for Russian forces, and a target for Ukraine’s counter-offensive.
Formerly under Soviet control until declaring its sovereignty in 1990, Belarus has been an authoritarian state effectively run by Lukashenko since independence.
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