Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced last week that the country plans to store nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus.
Putin told state broadcaster Russia 1 that Moscow will complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by the beginning of July.
But what does this mean and should we be worried?
FactCheck takes a look.
Why is Russia storing nuclear weapons in Belarus?
Belarus is located west of Russia on Ukraine’s long northern border and is one of Russia’s closest allies. It also borders NATO and EU member countries, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
The Russian President said Moscow had already transferred an Iskander short-range missile system – which can be fitted with nuclear or conventional warheads – to Belarus.
He also said that Russia had helped Belarus convert 10 aircraft in order to make them capable of carrying nuclear warheads, with pilots due to begin training to fly these planes in early April.
And now there’s a plan to build a special storage facility to house such weapons.
It is the first time since the mid-1990s that Russia has based such weaponry outside the country – but Putin intends to still have full control over them.
He said Moscow would keep control over any nuclear weapons it chose to station in Belarus, and that the plan is similar to what the US already does regarding keeping nuclear weapons in other countries.
“There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries,” he said.
“We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasise, without violating our international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
The leader was referring to the US stationing nuclear weapons in Europe as part of an international treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons by keeping them out of the hands of countries that do not already have them.
According to the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the US has an estimated 100 nuclear warheads at air bases on the continent, including in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey.
Should we be worried?
A senior US administration official told the Reuters news agency there are no signs Moscow plans to use the weapons.
They said: “We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor any indications Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
“We remain committed to the collective defence of the NATO alliance.”
Last year, Washington made it clear to Russia that there will be consequences if there is any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine – although they didn’t say exactly what they would be.
Speaking in October, US President Joe Biden told CNN: “It would be irresponsible for me to talk about what we would or wouldn’t do.”
But added: “The mistakes get made, the miscalculation could occur, no one could be sure what would happen and it could end in Armageddon.”
James Green, Professor of Public International Law at the University of the West of England, Bristol, told FactCheck that whether the move means we should be worried is “hard to tell” as it is “hard to see it as anything other than an escalation of nuclear risk”.
But, despite that, he added: “I think it’s still more of an exercise in strategic signalling from Russia than an indication of actual intent to use nuclear weapons any time soon.”
This is echoed by Patrick Porter, Professor of International Security and Strategy at the University of Birmingham, who told FactCheck that “though it is clearly Putin’s attempt to intimidate, we should not be very worried”.
He said the move “doesn’t raise the risks of delegated control” as Russia retains the codes and control over the weapons, and “it doesn’t alter the overall nuclear balance in either direction, because Russia already has a large nuclear arsenal that it can deploy from land, sea and air”.
“Neither does it threaten the survivability of the west’s ability to retaliate to any nuclear or conventional attack,” he added.