Russia to supply nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus


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.

Russia launched its invasion on February 24 partly from Belarusian territory, which borders Ukraine to the north. Throughout the war, Moscow used Minsk as a satellite base, including for many Russian air operations in Ukraine, according to intelligence gathered by NATO surveillance planes.

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.

US President Joe Biden hopes to announce new sanctions and military assistance alongside European allies during his visits to Germany and Spain. The G7 and NATO summits will hear from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who continues to appeal to the United States and other countries for more help.

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.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military confirmed on Saturday that it had started using a US-provided Advanced Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) to strike Russian targets. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi released a video he said showed the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, launching its missile at night at an unspecified location.
CNN reported Thursday that HIMARS had arrived in Ukraine, citing the country’s Defense Ministry.

Fall of Severodonetsk

On Saturday, the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was “completely under Russian occupation”, the head of the city’s military administration, Oleksandr Striuk, said after months of grueling and bloody fighting. Severodonetsk was one of the last major Ukrainian strongholds in the region.

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.

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