Russia Makes Major Nuclear Weapons Move For First Time In More Than 30 Years

(Photo by GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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Russia moved forward with a plan Thursday to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, right on the border with Ukraine, marking the first time the Kremlin has moved nuclear weapons outside Russian territory since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an authoritarian ruler closely allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Thursday that the weapons were already in transit. No Russian nuclear weapons have been outside the country since 1991, when they were taken out of former Soviet republics that became independent during the collapse of the USSR, according to Reuters.

Lukashenko told reporters in Moscow he wasn’t sure if the weapons were already in Belarus or not, but he’d check when he gets back. He was visiting the Russian capital to attend meetings with leaders of other ex-Soviet countries.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu signed an agreement on the nuclear weapons in Minsk with his Belarusian counterpart. He accused the West of “essentially waging an undeclared war against our countries” and working to “prolong and escalate the armed conflict in Ukraine.” (RELATED: Russia Throws ‘Victory Day’ Parade Featuring A Single Tank)

State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller condemned the move of nuclear weapons from Russia, but said the U.S. does not believe Russia is particularly close to using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

“I will just add we have seen no reason to adjust our strategic nuclear posture or any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon,” Miller said, adding that the move is “the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago.”

The U.S. estimates Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, roughly ten times more than the United States. Tactical nuclear weapons are aimed at gaining advantages on the battlefield in places like Ukraine and they are smaller than the strategic nuclear weapons designed to wipe out entire cities.