President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that his deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, something he confirmed for the first time had already happened, was a reminder to the West that it could not inflict a strategic defeat on Russia.
Speaking at Russia’s flagship economic forum in St Petersburg, Putin said Russian tactical nuclear warheads had already been delivered to close ally Belarus, but stressed he saw no need for Russia to resort to nuclear weapons for now.
“As you know we were negotiating with our ally, (Belarusian President (Alexander) Lukashenko, that we would move a part of these tactical nuclear weapons to the territory of Belarus – this has happened,” said Putin.
“The first nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus. But only the first ones, the first part. But we will do this job completely by the end of the summer or by the end of the year.”
The move, Moscow’s first deployment of such warheads – shorter-range nuclear weapons that could potentially be used on the battlefield – outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union was intended as a warning to the West about arming and supporting Ukraine, the Russian leader said.
“…It is precise as an element of deterrence so that all those who are thinking about inflicting a strategic defeat on us are not oblivious to this circumstance,” said Putin, using a diplomatic term for a defeat so severe that Russian power would be diminished on the world stage for decades.
Lukashenko, a staunch ally of Putin, said late on Tuesday his country had started taking delivery of Russian tactical nuclear weapons that included some three times more powerful than the atomic bombs the US dropped on Japan in 1945.
The Russian leader announced in March he had agreed to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, pointing to the US deployment of such weapons in a host of European countries over many decades.
PUTIN SAYS THE WEST WANTS STRATEGIC DEFEAT
The United States has criticized Putin’s decision but has said it has no intention of altering its own stance on strategic nuclear weapons and has not seen any signs that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
The Russian step is nonetheless being watched closely by Washington and its allies as well as by China, which has repeatedly cautioned against the use of nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.
Putin said the West was doing everything it could to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia in Ukraine where Moscow is locked in the biggest land war in Europe since World War Two after invading its neighbor last year in what it called “a special military operation.”