Putin told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a meeting in St. Petersburg that the missile systems “can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” according to the Kremlin.
On Saturday, Ukraine claimed that Russian forces had fired several missiles at Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions from Belarus.
In a transcript of the meeting, Lukashenko expressed to Putin his ‘stress’ over what he claims were flights of US and NATO planes ‘practicing to carry nuclear warheads’ near the Belarusian border .
He asked Putin to consider “a mirror response” to flights or to convert Russian fighter jets, which are currently deployed in Belarus, to “carry nuclear warheads”.
Putin replied that “there is no need” to match US flights and suggested that Belarus could modify its own Su-25 aircraft to be nuclear-capable instead.
“This modernization should be carried out at aircraft factories in Russia, but we will agree with you on how to do it. And accordingly, start training the flight crew,” Putin said.
What is Iskander-M?
The Iskander-M is a Russian-made short-range ballistic missile system that can carry conventional or nuclear warheads with a maximum range of 500 kilometers (310 miles), according to Janes Defense.
The weapon uses both optical and inertial guidance systems to strike its targets, hitting them with a range of warheads, such as cluster munitions, vacuum bombs, bunker-busters and warheads electromagnetic pulse (EMP), according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
The Iskander-M was first used in 2008 during the Russia-Georgia conflict, when the Russian military used it to strike targets in Gori, according to the Alliance.
CNN has contacted the Pentagon to comment on Lukashenko’s claims.
G7 and NATO Summits
The meeting between the Russian and Belarusian strongmen preceded a week of summits in Europe, where the bitter war in Ukraine – which is entering its fifth month – will be front and center.
Leaders from Japan, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the European Union and host Germany will meet for the Group of 7 on Monday.
During his Saturday night speech, Zelensky said “sanctions packages against Russia are not enough” and called on Western partners to provide Ukraine with more “armed assistance”.
“Air defense systems – the modern systems that our partners have – should not be in training areas or storage facilities, but in Ukraine, where they are needed now,” he said.
Fall of Severodonetsk
Regional military officials said on Friday that the last troops in Severodonetsk had been ordered to leave because it was impossible to continue defending their positions. This effectively ceded the city to Russia and placed the eastern Ukrainian region of Lugansk almost entirely under Russian control.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that its forces had now taken control of the entire left bank of the Siverskyi Donets, the eastern bank of the river and all the borders of the Lugansk People’s Republic.
Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian forces had “completely liberated the towns of Severodonetsk and Borivske, the settlements of Voronove and Syrotyn from the Luhansk People’s Republic”.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych contributed reporting.