Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia plans to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
This marks Moscow's latest attempt to use the threat of a nuclear war to ramp up tensions with the United States and the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation over the invasion of Ukraine, Financial Times reported.
Putin said work would be completed on building storage units for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus on July 1, a move he likened to US nuclear deployments in Europe.
The Russian leader said Moscow has already transferred an Iskander short-range missile system -- which can be fitted with nuclear or conventional warheads -- to Belarus.
Though Putin said Russia would not transfer control of the tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus or violate its nuclear non-proliferation obligations, the decision is one of the Kremlin's most significant steps with its arsenal since it invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, according to Financial Times.
The Russian President said the deployment was in response to a longstanding request from Belarus's leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has allowed Russia to use the country as a launch pad for attacks on Ukraine, thereby moving his country deeper into the Kremlin's embrace.
"There is nothing unusual here: first of all, the US has been doing this for decades," Putin said.
"They placed their tactical nuclear weapons in six different allied Nato countries in Europe. [ . . . ] we have agreed to do the same thing, without, I stress, violating our international non-proliferation obligations," Putin said.
"They have [tactical nuclear weapons] in certain countries, prepare the delivery systems, and train the crews. We're planning to do the same thing," he added, as quoted by Financial Times.
Putin accused the 'West' of fueling the Ukraine crisis and said that the 'West' is gambling on the fates of entire states and peoples, according to the Kremlin's statement.
Putin, in an article for the Chinese Communist Party's flagship newspaper, People's Daily, stated that the NATO is striving for the global reach of activities and seeking to penetrate the Asia-Pacific.
'The crisis in Ukraine, which was provoked and is being diligently fuelled by the West, is the most striking, yet not the only, manifestation of its desire to retain its international dominance and preserve the unipolar world order. It is crystal clear that NATO is striving for a global reach of activities and seeking to penetrate the Asia-Pacific,' Putin said.
'It is obvious that there are forces persistently working to split the common Eurasian space into a network of 'exclusive clubs' and military blocs that would serve to contain our countries' development and harm their interests. This won't work,' he added.
The government in Belarus, which is situated west of Russia on Ukraine's long northern border, is among Moscow's closest allies.
Belarus has had no nuclear weapons on its territory since the early 1990s.
Shortly after gaining independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it agreed to transfer all Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction stationed there to Russia.
Belarus helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, allowing the Kremlin's troops to enter the country from the north.
There have been fears throughout the conflict that Belarus will again be used as a launching ground for an offensive, or that Minsk's own troops will join the conflict, CNN reported.