MOSCOW — The authoritarian leader of Belarus said Friday that the country’s warplanes have been modified to carry nuclear weapons in line with an agreement with ally Russia.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the upgrade followed his June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who offered to make Belarusian combat aircraft nuclear-capable at Russian factories and to help train pilots.
“Do you think it was all blather?” Lukashenko said to reporters Friday. “All of it has been done.”
Russia used the territory of Belarus as a staging ground to send troops into Ukraine, and Moscow and Minsk have maintained close military ties.
Lukashenko, who has been president since 1994, warned the United States and its allies against carrying out a “provocation” against Belarus. He said “the targets have been selected” for retaliation, if his warning is not heeded.
He didn’t specify how many Belarusian warplanes received the upgrade to make them capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Kremlin had no immediate comment on Lukashenko’s statement.
Earlier this year, Lukashenko said his country could host Russian nuclear weapons if the US and its allies deployed nuclear weapons to NATO members Poland and Lithuania, which border Belarus.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for 28 years while relying on Russia’s political and economic support. In 2020, Moscow helped him survive the largest and the most sustained wave of mass protests in the country’s history, which followed a presidential election that the opposition and the West denounced as rigged.