Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has promised nuclear weapons to any nation that joins Russia and Belarus.
The comment came just days after the Belarusian leader confirmed the transfer of Russian nuclear weapons to his country. Putin has periodically hinted at a nuclear escalation since invading Ukraine in February 2022, dramatically increasing tensions with the United States and the West.
“It’s very simple. You have to join the union between Belarus and Russia, and that’s it: there will be nuclear weapons for everyone,” Lukashenko said in a comment broadcast on Sunday evening on television. of Russian state.
“I think it’s possible,” Lukashenko added, saying he was speaking his own mind. “We have to strategically understand that we have a unique chance to unite.”
Lukashneko, who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s staunchest supporters, made the comment in response to earlier remarks by President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev at a summit in Moscow on Wednesday.
Tokayev said at the Eurasian Economic Union forum in Moscow on Wednesday that Belarus and Russia enjoy close relations where “even nuclear weapons are shared between the two.”
The Union State between Russia and Belarus was formed in 1999 and allows the two former Soviet republics to integrate economically, politically and militarily.
On Thursday, the Belarusian leader confirmed that Russia has made progress on the plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, first announced in March.
It comes amid escalating nuclear rhetoric from Putin as his war effort in Ukraine flounders. Russia has the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, which Putin has said he would not hesitate to use if the country’s security or existence were threatened.
Belarus, which does not possess its own nuclear weapons after transferring the legacy Soviet-era stockpile to Russia in the 1990s, is not officially a party to the war in Ukraine, although Moscow has used its territory to launch the full-scale invasion last year.
Putin backed Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule after violent protests nearly toppled “Europe’s last dictator” in 2020, deepening the country’s political and economic dependence on Russia.
In March, the Russian leader announced his intention to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus at Lukashenko’s request, drawing condemnation from the West.
Lukashenko confirmed that the movement of nuclear weapons had already started on Thursday, without specifying whether they had already reached Belarusian soil, according to the Belarusian state news agency Belta.
Meanwhile, the two countries’ defense ministers, Sergei Shoigu and Viktor Khrenin, signed documents last week in Minsk setting out the procedure for keeping Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, the Russian Defense Ministry said. .
Moscow has already handed over the “Iskander” missile system, which can carry nuclear weapons, to Minsk, Shoigu said, and helped convert some Belarusian aircraft for possible use of nuclear weapons.
The State Department on Thursday denounced the alleged deployment, calling it “the latest example of irresponsible behavior” by Russia.
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com