Putin Says Tactical Nuclear Weapons to Be Deployed in Belarus in July

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia June 9, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia June 9, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
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Putin Says Tactical Nuclear Weapons to Be Deployed in Belarus in July

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia June 9, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speak during a meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia June 9, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

Russia will start deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus after special storage facilities are made ready on July 7-8, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, Moscow's first move of such warheads outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.  

Putin announced in March he had agreed to deploy such weapons in Belarus, pointing to US deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in a host of European countries over many decades.  

"Everything is going according to plan," Putin told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, discussing the planned nuclear deployment over a meal at the Russian leader's summer retreat in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.  

"Preparation of the relevant facilities ends on July 7-8, and we will immediately begin activities related to the deployment of appropriate types of weapons on your territory," Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript of his remarks.  

Lukashenko said: "Thank you, Vladimir Vladimirovich."  

More than 15 months into the biggest land war in Europe since World War Two, Putin says the United States and its Western allies are pumping arms into Ukraine as part of an expanding proxy war aimed at bringing Russia to its knees.  

Putin, 70, casts the war as a battle for Russia's own survival in the face of what he says is an ever-expanding NATO. He has warned the West that Moscow will not back down.  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says Ukraine will not rest until every last Russian soldier is ejected from his country, and wants it to join NATO as soon as possible.  

Putin's nuclear move is being watched closely by both the United States and its NATO allies in Europe and by China, which has repeatedly cautioned against the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict.  

The United States has criticized Putin's nuclear deployment but has said it has no intention of altering its position on strategic nuclear weapons and also that it has not seen any signs Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon.  

The war in Ukraine has triggered what both Moscow and Washington says is the deepest crisis in relations since the depths of the Cold War, with major nuclear arms control treaties unravelling and both sides denouncing the other in public.  

Putin's nuclear remarks have raised particular concern.  

Last September, he warned the West he was not bluffing when he said Russia would use "all available means to protect Russia and our people".  

It is still unclear where the Russian nuclear warheads - which will remain under Russian control - will be kept in Belarus.  

Range  

Putin, who is the ultimate decision maker on any nuclear launch, said Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missiles, which can deliver nuclear warheads, had already been handed over to Belarus. Russian sources say the Iskander has a range of 500 km (310 miles).  

Belarus said Su-25 aircraft had been adapted to carry the warheads. The Sukhoi-25 jet has a range of up to 1,000 km (620 miles), according to Russian sources.  

If the weapons were launched from Belarus's main air base outside Minsk, those delivery vehicles could potentially reach almost all of eastern Europe - including a host of NATO members - as well as cities such as Berlin and Stockholm.

After the Soviet collapsed in 1991, the United States went to enormous efforts to return the Soviet nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to Russia - which inherited the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union.

Until now, Russia has not announced any nuclear weapon deployments outside its borders.

Putin has repeatedly raised the issue of US B61 tactical nuclear warheads deployed at bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Türkiye. Moscow is also unhappy about a reported upgrade of the B61, which was first tested in Nevada shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.