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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that his government has secured an agreement to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which neighbors both Russia and Ukraine. The move, first reported by the official Russian press agency TASS, marks a significant nuclear escalation in the Russia-Ukraine war, which has become a proxy war on Europe’s eastern frontier.

Belarus is a top Russian ally and has played a pivotal role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, providing a staging ground for the Russian initial invasion and march on to Kyiv.

Tactical nuclear weapons are lower-yield nuclear devices that are designed to be used against close enemy targets on the battlefield.

Putin stated that the storage facility in Belarus for tactical nuclear weapons will be completed in July. However, it remains to be seen whether Putin actually intends on moving tactical nukes to Belarus or is using the threat of nuclear escalation to force concessions or even negotiations from Ukraine and its Western allies. Russia transferred nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Belarus last year.

The move, Putin claims, does not violate non-proliferation agreements as the weapons will be under Russian control. The Russian president compared the deal with Belarus to U.S. arrangements with other countries. Since the 1950s, the United States has stationed tactical nuclear weapons at bases in NATO allies such as Belgium and Turkey.

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In response to the Russia-Belarus agreement, NATO member states could revoke their commitment in the 1997 Founding Act on relations with Russia not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members.

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