Russia has sent tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus after signing a deal on Thursday formalising the deployment of arms on its ally’s territory, although they remain under the Kremlin’s control.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the deployment of the shorter-range weapons in Belarus earlier this year in a move widely seen as a warning to the West as it stepped up military support for Ukraine.
When the weapons would be sent was not announced, but Mr Putin has said the construction of storage facilities in Belarus for them would be completed by July 1.
The US government believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, which include bombs that can be carried by aircraft, warheads for short-range missiles and artillery rounds.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to destroy enemy troops and weapons on the battlefield.
They have a relatively short range and a much lower yield than nuclear warheads fitted to long-range strategic missiles that are capable of obliterating whole cities.
Speaking in Moscow, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said “the movement of the nuclear weapons has begun” but was not clear whether any had actually arrived in his country.
Mr Lukashenko was attending a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council with Mr Putin and leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.