Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) receives Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) as he arrives at the National Airport in Minsk, Belarus, on Dec. 19, 2022. File Photo by Kremlin Pool/UPI | License Photo
March 26 (UPI) -- A NATO spokesperson called Russia's announcement that it would move tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus "dangerous and irresponsible" on Sunday.
"Russia's nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible. NATO is vigilant, and we are closely monitoring the situation," NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in an emailed statement to UPI.
However, Lungescu added that the alliance has "not seen any changes in Russia's nuclear posture" that would lead NATO to adjust its own.
She did not respond to questions on specific dangers or potential ramifications of Russia's announcement or movement of tactical nuclear weapons that led the alliance to characterizing it as dangerous.
"We are committed to protect and defend all NATO allies," Lungescu said.
"Russia's reference to NATO's nuclear sharing is totally misleading. NATO allies act with full respect of their international commitments. Russia has consistently broken its arms control commitments, most recently suspending its participation in the New START Treaty."
Lungescu added that "Russia must return to compliance and act in good faith."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that Russia would station the tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Putin said that there was "nothing unusual" about the decision and that it did not violate any international treaties, according to Russian government-controlled media.
"There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries," he said. "We agreed that we will do the same."
While Russia will build a storage facility in Belarus, it will retain control over the weapons.
Tactical nuclear weapons are smaller than intercontinental ballistic missiles and are meant for use on the battlefield, unlike the 9,700-pound and a 10,800-pound bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
No tactical nuclear weapon has ever been used in combat, though U.S. intelligence estimates that Russia has stockpiled up to 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons.
The United States has slightly more than 200 in its stockpiles, according to a 2022 report from the Congressional Research Service.