Russia has dismissed criticism from US President Joe Biden over Moscow’s deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying Washington for decades has done the same throughout Europe.
Russia said on Thursday it was pushing ahead with the first deployment of such weapons outside its borders since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the arms were already on the move.
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Biden said on Friday he had an “extremely negative” reaction to reports that Russia moved ahead with the deployment in Belarus.
“It is the sovereign right of Russia and Belarus to ensure their security by means we deem necessary amid a large-scale hybrid war unleashed by Washington against us,” Russia’s embassy in the United States said in a statement.
“The measures we undertake are fully consistent with our international legal obligations.”
Tactical nuclear weapons are used for tactical gains on the battlefield and are usually smaller in yield than the strategic nuclear weapons designed to destroy American, European or Russian cities.
The Russian embassy called the US criticism of Moscow’s deployment hypocritical, saying “before blaming others, Washington could use some introspection”.
“The United States has been for decades maintaining a large arsenal of its nuclear weapons in Europe. Together with its NATO allies it participates in nuclear sharing arrangements and trains for scenarios of nuclear weapons use against our country.”
Cold War redux
The United States has said the world faces the gravest nuclear danger since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis because of remarks by President Vladimir Putin during the Ukraine conflict, but Moscow says its position has been misinterpreted.
Putin, who has cast the Ukraine war as a battle for the survival of Russia against an aggressive West, has repeatedly warned that Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than any other country, will use all means to defend itself.
The United States has deployed nuclear weapons in Western Europe since US President Dwight D Eisenhower authorised their deployment in the Cold War as a counter to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The first US nuclear weapons in Europe were deployed in Britain in 1954.
Much of the detail about the current American deployment is classified, though the Federation of American Scientists says the US has 100 B61 tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe – in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.