MOSCOW, May 27 (Reuters) – Russia on Saturday rejected criticism from U.S. President Joe Biden over Moscow’s plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying Washington had deployed just such nuclear weapons in Europe for decades.
Russia said Thursday it was moving ahead with the first deployment of such weapons outside its borders since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the weapons were already on the move.
Biden said Friday that he had an “extremely negative” reaction to reports that Russia had moved forward with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The US State Department has condemned Russia’s nuclear deployment plan.
“It is the sovereign right of Russia and Belarus to ensure their security by whatever means we deem necessary amid the large-scale hybrid war that Washington has launched against us,” the Russian embassy in the United States said in a statement.
“The measures we are taking are fully in line with our international legal obligations.”
The United States has said the world is facing its biggest nuclear threat since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis because of President Vladimir Putin’s remarks during the conflict in Ukraine, but Moscow says its position has been misconstrued.
Putin, who has presented the Ukraine war as a battle for Russia’s survival 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.
Tactical nuclear weapons are used for tactical gains on the battlefield and are usually less effective than strategic nuclear weapons designed to destroy American, European or Russian cities.
The Russian embassy called US criticism of Moscow’s planned deployment hypocritical, saying “before blaming others, Washington could use some introspection.”
“The United States has maintained a large arsenal of its nuclear weapons in Europe for decades. Together with its NATO allies, it participates in nuclear weapons sharing arrangements and trains for scenarios of using nuclear weapons against our country.”
The United States has deployed nuclear weapons in Western Europe since US President Dwight D Eisenhower authorized their deployment in the Cold War to counter a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The first American nuclear weapon in Europe was deployed in Britain in 1954.
Most details of the current US deployment are secret, although 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.
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge Editing by Frances Kerry
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