Russia Won't Rule Out Nukes in Belarus Amid NATO Standoff, Diplomat Says

A top Russian diplomat has refused to rule out deploying nuclear weapons in Belarus amid continued high tensions with Ukraine and its NATO partners.

Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko told reporters on Tuesday that "all options" would be considered if NATO moved ahead with proposed Ukrainian membership, or deployed additional weaponry in Baltic member states along the Russian border, RIA Novosti reported.

Some 100,000 troops backed by armored vehicles and artillery are currently deployed along Ukraine's frontiers with Russia and Belarus—a longtime Moscow ally led by dictator President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko is currently under sanctions for intensified suppression of political opponents since he claimed victory in August 2020's disputed presidential election. The president told RIA Novosti in November that Minsk would ask Moscow to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarusian territory if NATO did the same in Poland.

This week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei told RT Arabic that Minsk "is considering deploying nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus." Such a step, he said, "is one of the possible responses to future possible actions by the North Atlantic alliance on the territory of Poland."

Rudenko said on Tuesday nothing has been ruled out.

"We have heard such proposals from our Belarusian allies," the deputy foreign minister said to questions about possible nuclear deployments in Belarus. "All options will be considered, but much, as I said, will depend on the reaction we expect to receive from the United States and NATO."

Newsweek has contacted NATO to request comment on Rudenko's remarks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has refused to withdraw his forces from Ukraine's borders. The Kremlin is demanding guarantees from the U.S. and its NATO allies that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO—the Cold War Western alliance created to contain the Soviet Union.

Ukraine first expressed an interest in NATO membership in 2008. Accession has become a central goal for the successive Western-leaning governments in Kyiv that took power after the 2014 Maidan Revolution toppled Russian-aligned politicians.

Subsequent Ukrainian leaders have framed NATO membership as a security necessity, pointing to Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its ongoing support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in their war with Kyiv.

Despite warm words from Brussels, Ukraine is yet to receive a Membership Action Plan—the first step to becoming a full NATO state. Perceived NATO and U.S. hesitance to admit Ukraine is a serious grievance for Kyiv.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. "Moscow must return to diplomacy & respect #Ukraine's sovereignty & territorial integrity," Stoltenberg tweeted after the meeting. "#NATO stands with Ukraine. All countries have the right to choose own security arrangements."

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden assured Zelenskiy that Putin would not be able to veto Kyiv membership ambitions. "President Biden said very clearly...that any negotiations, any decisions that concern Ukraine, cannot be taken without Ukraine," Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told Ukraine's 1+1 TV channel after the two leaders spoke.

Putin has tried to frame a Western-facing Ukraine as a springboard for NATO and the U.S. to smother Russia. NATO has long loomed as an existential threat to Moscow, first for the Soviet leadership and later for the Russian Federation.

The Kremlin has repeatedly blamed its Western adversaries for tensions around Ukraine.

Weeks of efforts to de-escalate the situation have so far failed. Putin said on Tuesday that Russia will "take adequate military-technical measures and respond toughly to unfriendly steps" from the West.

Russia ICBM nuclear weapons Red Square NATO
A Russian nuclear-capable ICBM is pictured in Red Square during a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, on June 24, 2020, in Moscow, Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko has refused to rule out the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus amid Moscow's standoff with NATO and Ukraine. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images