WARSAW, Poland — Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has announced the S-400 air defense systems and Iskander missiles the country has received from Russia have been put “on combat duty.”
The move comes as analysts are seeing Moscow’s rising pressure on Minsk to increase the satellite nation’s involvement in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lukashenko made the announcement during the authoritarian leader’s meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during the latter’s Dec. 19 visit to Minsk.
“Today, we put on combat duty the S-400 complex, which you handed over to Belarus, and, most importantly, the Iskander complex, which you also, having promised it six months ago, handed over to us,” Lukashenko said, as quoted in a statement released by the Russian president’s office.
Lukashenko has long called on the Kremlin to provide his regime with Iskander missile systems. This would allow the Belarusian armed forces to expand their attack range from about 300 km (186 miles) to 500 km (311 miles), he has argued.
The distance between Minsk and Warsaw, the capital of NATO member state Poland, which has maintained strained ties with Belarus, is about 546 km (339 miles).
Last February, the Belarusian government organized a referendum which enabled the authorities to modify the constitution’s article describing the nation as a “nuclear-free zone” and a “neutral” state. The vote, which international organizations have broadly dismissed as rigged, allows Russia to deploy additional nuclear weapons along NATO’s eastern flank.
Meanwhile, the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S. think tank, said in a recent analysis that “Lukashenko uses the rhetoric of defending Belarusian borders against the West and NATO in an effort to avoid participating in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Lukashenko had used similar hints about the possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus on Feb. 17 in the context of claimed Western aggression, analysts wrote.
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