Belarus? leader has said Russia should deploy atomic warheads inside his country's borders if NATO's nuclear weapons are advanced eastwards through Poland, amid a growing row with the West.
Speaking in an interview with RIA Novosti on Tuesday, Alexander Lukashenko threatened to increase the amount of deadly hardware facing off across the frontier if American-made nukes are moved further into Eastern Europe.
In that case, Lukashenko said, "I will suggest that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin return nuclear weapons to Belarus." According to him, the restoration of a Soviet-era nuclear deterrent over the territory using "those atomic armaments would be the most effective in such a case."
"I am not saying this for no reason," he went on, "we are ready for this on the territory of Belarus." Lukashenko, however, did not specify which type of system he wanted to be used, and claimed that this would be "agreed" by the two sides.
The bombshell remarks from Belarus' long-time leader came after the US-led military bloc's head, Jens Stoltenberg, expressed concern earlier this month that Germany's new government could decline to purchase a new fleet of aircraft capable of launching nuclear weapons once chancellor Angela Merkel leaves her post.
Stoltenberg said that NATO's nukes "provide European Allies with an effective nuclear umbrella. This, of course, also includes our eastern Allies and they are an important signal of Allied unity against any nuclear-armed adversary." The bloc's chief said that the plans to shuttle armaments was necessary because of the alleged threat posed by Russia.
Stoltenberg's proposals drew ire in the Kremlin, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko proclaiming that the NATO head's remarks threaten the peace accords signed between the two parties. The Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, inked between Russia and the US-led bloc, was signed in May 1997. Under the agreement, Moscow and NATO do not consider each other as opponents. The document separately promised not to station nuclear weapons on the territory of new members of the bloc from that date onwards.
The military bloc's potential deployment of atomic warheads even closer to Russia has long been a point of contention in relations between the two powers. Last year, Lavrov's deputy, Sergey Ryabkov, said that Moscow hopes the US will stop "'sharing' nuclear weapons with its allies."
Belarus has been locked into a worsening row with neighboring Poland in recent weeks amid a sharp rise in the number of migrants attempting to cross the border. The EU accuses Minsk of putting on flights from troubled countries like Iraq and Syria, before forcing desperate people to assault the fence in a bid to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions against the country.
Speaking earlier this month, Lukashenko admitted it was possible some of his officials had helped the would-be asylum seekers to cross over, but said it wasn't worth looking into. Minsk accuses the bloc of orchestrating a "hybrid war" by hosting exiled opposition figures and media outlets banned within Belarus.