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Ukraine is demanding an emergency United Nations meeting and NATO has warned Russia against “dangerous” and “irresponsible” moves after Vladimir Putin announced he would turn Belarus into a station for tactical nuclear weapons.
Despite Putin’s announcement and Ukraine’s emergency meeting demands, NATO appeared to seek to downplay the development, criticizing the Russian leader’s “nuclear rhetoric” but also noting that the Western military alliance had “not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear posture that would lead us to adjust our own”.
“NATO is vigilant and we are closely monitoring the situation,” alliance spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Sunday.
On Saturday, Putin said Russia’s decision to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus was a response to the UK’s decision last week to give Ukraine armor-piercing rounds with depleted uranium.
"There is nothing unusual here either: First, the US has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries," Putin told Russian state television.
Putin noted that his move was no different than the U.S. stationing weapons in Europe.
"We agreed that we will do the same — without violating our obligations, I emphasize, without violating our international obligations on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons."
"Russia's reference to NATO's nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments," Lungescu said in a statement. "Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments."
Kyiv’s view is that Minsk is now a “nuclear hostage” to Moscow.
Russia will begin training in tactical nuclear weapons on April 3, while the construction of a special storage facility for the weapons is slated to be completed by July 1, The Moscow TImes reports.
Russia is believed to have some 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, according to The Associated Press. Putin claims that Belarus already has 10 Russian tactical nuclear-capable aircraft as well as Iskander tactical missile systems.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com