This comes several months after Putin announced that he had received Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's permission to station nuclear weapons in the nation, which borders three North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members – Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the north. (Related: Putin to deploy tactical nuclear missiles in neighboring Belarus following increased Western provocations.)
"Everything is going according to plan," Putin told Lukashenko during a meeting in Putin's summer retreat estate in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi as they discuss the plans for nuclear deployment to Belarus.
Putin added in his conversation with Lukashenko that the construction of the special storage facilities needed to house the tactical nuclear weapons will be completed by July 7 to 8, after which Russia "will immediately begin activities related to the deployment of appropriate types of weapons on Belarus."
The move to send nuclear warheads to Belarus marks the first time Russia has deployed nuclear weapons outside its own borders. Both Ukraine and the White House have condemned the agreement to send nuclear weapons to Belarus.
"It's the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago," said United States Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller, who added that the White House still does not believe "Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon."
In his own response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his demand for his nation to be admitted into NATO as soon as possible. He also said that Ukraine will not rest until every last Russian soldier currently in the territory the nation claims is "ejected."
The move to send nuclear weapons to Belarus is being watched closely not just by the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe, but also by China, all of whom have repeatedly cautioned against the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict.
Tactical nuclear weapons are intended to be launched at relatively shorter ranges to target enemy troops, weapons and other equipment on the battlefield. This distinguishes them from strategic nuclear weapons, which are intended to target enemy nations and other targets outside of ongoing battlefields.
Putin's announcement in March that he wanted to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus was seen at the time as a warning to the whole host of Western nations that support Ukraine and provide it with military aid. Putin previously said Russia will retain control of the tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. It is not clear, however, how many nuclear warheads would be sent to Belarus.
The White House believes Russia has about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, including warheads that can be carried by aircraft, launched by short-range missiles and even launched by long-range artillery pieces.
Putin has noted that his country's Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile systems can be adapted to deliver nuclear warheads. Some of these systems have already been handed over to Belarus, and Russian sources noted that the Iskander has a range of about 500 kilometers (310 miles).
Belarus further noted that the Su-25 aircraft in its air force can also be adapted to carry nuclear warheads. The Su-25 has a range of up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
What this means is that if a Su-25 carrying a tactical nuclear warhead is launched from Belarus' main air base just outside of the capital of Minsk, those jets could go anywhere in Ukraine and could also reach almost all of Eastern Europe. These planes might even be able to fly far enough to reach Berlin in Germany and Stockholm in Sweden.
Learn more about the possibility of nuclear conflict at NuclearWar.news.
Watch this clip of Lukashenko hinting that Russia may have already begun moving nuclear weapons into Belarus a month before the stated beginning of the move.