Ukraine tensions: Belarus says could host nuclear weapons if faces Western threat

President Alexander Lukashenko also said that if there is no threat, Belarus would not need nuclear weapons. PHOTO: NYTIMES

MOSCOW (AFP, XINHUA) - Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday (Feb 17) that his country could host nuclear weapons if it faces any external threats, as tensions soar between his ally Russia and the West over Ukraine.

Mr Lukashenko is due to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday.

The Belarusian president said they would discuss the next steps for Russian-Belarusian integration as well as the issue of recognising self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" and "Luhansk People's Republic" in eastern Ukraine.

"If necessary, if such stupid and mindless steps are taken by our rivals and opponents, we will deploy not only nuclear weapons, but super-nuclear and up-and-coming ones to protect our territory," Mr Lukashenko told the media at the Osipovichi training ground, where joint military exercises with Russia are taking place.

"But if there are no threats to Belarus from unfriendly countries, then nuclear weapons are not needed here for a hundred years," he added, according to the state-run Belta news agency.

Mr Lukashenko said he wants an Iskander missile systems training centre to be created in Belarus. According to the president, three military training centres have been created in cooperation with Russia. The Belarusian side is also interested in training sailors in Kaliningrad or Murmansk, and in deploying Russian S-400 missile systems.

Ex-Soviet Belarus, which is not a nuclear power, will later this month hold a vote on constitutional reforms which could make it legal for Belarus to host nuclear weapons.

Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, promised the referendum in the wake of historic protests against his disputed re-election.

The constitutional reforms would also allow Mr Lukashenko to remain in office until 2035.

Moscow and Minsk are currently holding joint military exercises in Belarus, exacerbating concerns that Russia is planning to escalate the conflict in Ukraine.

Belarus has said that all Russian soldiers and military equipment will leave after the drills end conclude on Feb 20.

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