Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has promised nuclear weapons to any other country that wanted to join the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Lukashenko, a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, made the remarks in an interview on Kremlin state television on Sunday, saying it must be “strategically understood” that Minsk and Moscow have a unique chance to unite.
“No one is against Kazakhstan and other countries having the same close relations that we have with the Russian Federation,” Lukashenko said. “If someone is worried … [then] it is very simple: join in the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” he said, adding, “there will be nuclear weapons for everyone.”
However, Lukashenko stressed during the interview that it was his own view—not necessarily the view of Putin.
Belarus and Russia are part of a Union State, a supranational agreement between the two former Soviet republics that was signed in 1999 with the aim of strengthening economic and defense ties between the two neighbors.
Lukashenko’s comment came just days after the Belarusian leader moved ahead with a plan to transfer tactical nuclear weapons from Russia to his country, a move that has drawn condemnation from the administration of President Joe Biden and the European Union.
“This is a step which will lead to further extremely dangerous escalation,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said in a May 26 post on Twitter.
Last week, Lukashenko told Russian state-owned news outlet Sputnik that Moscow’s tactical nuclear deployment to Minsk had begun, but he stopped short of clarifying whether the warheads had already reached Belarusian soil.
The deployment marks the first time Russian tactical nuclear weapons have been deployed outside Russia since 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Putin first described plans to move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in late March. Top Kremlin officials have periodically hinted at a nuclear escalation since it invaded Ukraine in February last year. Relations between Russia and the United States have worsened since Moscow invaded Kyiv.
Tactical nuclear weapons are envisioned as a means of delivering the destructive power of a nuclear weapon in a relatively limited battlefield space. These weapons are usually smaller in yield than the strategic nuclear weapons designed to destroy entire cities during the Cold War.
Kazakhstan Rejects Offer
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whose nation of 20 million people has close historical ties with Moscow, has rejected Lukashenko’s proposal to join the Russia-Belarus Union State, calling the offer a “joke.”
“I appreciated his joke,” Tokayev’s office quoted him as saying on Telegram, adding that Kazakhstan was already a member of a broader Russian-led trade bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, so no further integration was necessary.
“As for nuclear weapons, we do not need them because we have joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty,” he said in a remark that could be interpreted as a sting to Moscow and Minsk.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, meanwhile, said during a news conference last week that the Biden administration is aware of the Russia-Belarus arrangement and “will continue to monitor, certainly, the implications here.”
“This is yet another example of [Putin] making irresponsible and provocative choices,” she said. “We remain committed to a collective defense of the NATO alliance, and I’ll just leave it there.”
Jean-Pierre said the U.S. side has not seen indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon and so the United States will accordingly not change its own nuclear posture.
Russian officials have tied the tactical nuclear deployment in Belarus to U.S. and NATO support for the Ukrainian government.
“The collective West is essentially waging an undeclared war against our countries,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart in Minsk, according to Russia’s defense ministry.
The United States and NATO have gradually escalated support for Ukrainian forces, beginning by sending man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers at the start of the war in February. As time has progressed, Western allies have provided Ukrainian forces with self-destructing anti-personnel drones, advanced High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, armored fighting vehicles, and tanks.
Russia used the territory of Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion of Ukraine. Since then, military cooperation between the two countries has increased, with joint training exercises on Belarusian soil.
Additionally, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense said on May 28 that another unit of the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile systems arrived from Moscow, with the systems to be ready for combat soon.
Reuters and Ryan Morgan contributed to this report.