The Russian and Belarusian defense ministers on Thursday signed an agreement laying out how to store Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus, Russian state media reported, as Moscow moved ahead with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of its close ally.
President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus said on Thursday in Moscow that the relocation of the weapons had begun, but did not say whether any had already arrived in his country, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported.
The signing of the agreement comes some two months after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he would be able to position nuclear weapons in Belarus by the summer, a claim analysts widely saw at the time as bluster intended to put pressure on the West.
The agreement is “the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago,” the State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Thursday. The United States saw no reason to adjust its nuclear posture and had seen no signs that Russia was preparing to use a nuclear weapon, he added.
The Russian state news service, Tass, reported that Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, met with his Belarusian counterpart, Viktor Khrenin, in Minsk on Thursday. It cited the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that the two signed documents formalizing “the procedure for keeping Russian nonstrategic nuclear weapons in a special storage facility” in Belarus.
Mr. Putin has repeatedly issued veiled threats of the use of nuclear weapons since launching the full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. U.S. officials say they have seen no evidence that Russia is moving or intends to employ its nuclear weapons but worries remain.
Even if Russia were to move some of its nuclear assets to Belarus, it would not seriously change the nuclear threat since Russia can already target a broad range of territory from within its own borders.
The U.S. government estimates Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which are delivered by aircraft, short-range missiles and even artillery rounds and are intended destroy troops and weapons on the battlefield. They have a short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads on long-range strategic missiles designed to destroy entire cities.