By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russia’s decision to station nuclear weapons in Belarus is part of a campaign to “threaten” and “scare” neighboring countries while highlighting Moscow’s dominance over Minsk, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service in an interview, Lithuania’s top diplomat echoed comments from many Western governments over the signing of documents in May by Belarus and Russia that allow for the placement of Russian tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus — the first relocation of such warheads outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
“It is saber-rattling, it is the possibility to show and try to scare small countries like Lithuania and other Baltic countries into, maybe, changing their positions,” he said.
NATO, to which Lithuania is a member that brings the alliance’s border to Belarus, has called the move “dangerous and irresponsible.”
In June Russian President Vladimir Putin said the first nuclear warheads were delivered to Belarus. While Minsk has not sent forces to join Moscow’s war against Ukraine, it has allowed the Kremlin to use its territory as a staging ground for the full-scale invasion it launched in February 2022.
Lithuania, a former Soviet republic that regained its independence from Moscow in 1990, and other the two other Baltic countries — Latvia and Estonia — as well as Poland, have been among Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Europe.
Landsbergis said that while “the potential danger that moving nuclear arms brings” cannot be underestimated, “more dangerous than the weapon is the intention to bring it to Belarus.”
He added that “the whole information campaign shows first of all Putin’s disregard to whatever is left from Belarus’ sovereignty, disregard to their constitution norms, or what is left of them.”
In a resolution adopted on September 13, the European Parliament called Belarus “a satellite state of Russia” and expressed concern about “the rampant political, economic, military, and cultural subordination of Belarus to Moscow.”
Belarus has welcomed closer relations with Moscow since a wave of crushing sanctions were imposed on it by the West after a deadly government crackdown on massive protests following a disputed 2020 presidential election that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term. The opposition and most Western governments dispute the results, saying the voting was rigged.
Lukashenka showed his loyalty in late June when he took part in talks to end a mutiny by the private Wagner Group, claiming he helped halt the revolt by agreeing with the mercenary group’s leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Putin to host Wagner troops in Belarus.