Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has warned of the danger of transferring nuclear weapons from Russia into “the hands of a crazy dictator” in Belarus, after Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that the first “missiles and bombs” had arrived in the country.
Ms Tikhanovskaya, who was speaking to the BBC in Warsaw, accused Western politicians of “staying silent” about the first deployment of tactical nuclear weapons outside of Russia since the collapse of the USSR in 1991.
Mr Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus, made his announcement in a staged discussion with a Russian state TV presenter, conducted somewhere in the Belarusian countryside with military trucks and hardware placed carefully in the background.
When the presenter asked him to clarify his statement – that Belarus has already received the weapons, sooner than expected – Mr Lukashenko chuckled, like the two were sharing a joke. “Not all of them. Gradually,” he said.
Mr Lukashenko is seen as Russia’s key ally, with Belarus serving as a launchpad for President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
In comments clearly intended to rattle Ukraine’s allies in the West, Mr Lukashenko stressed that the Russian bombs were “three times more powerful” than those dropped by the US on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War Two.
He added that he had not simply asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for the nuclear weapons.
“I demanded them back,” he said, claiming that he needed them for protection from external aggression – a false threat he also uses to justify his repression of all political opposition.