© PhotoAlyaksandr Lukashenka speaks at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly on April 25, 2024
Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that "several dozen Russian nuclear weapons" were deployed in Belarus, a move that has raised concerns in the West that Moscow's war against Ukraine could spread.

Speaking at the All-Belarusian People's Assembly in Minsk that was broadcast live on YouTube on April 25, Lukashenka, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the gathering had unanimously adopted a new military doctrine that considers the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil as a strategic deterrent.

Belarus has provided logistical support to Russia since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Since then, Moscow has moved tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus -- the first relocation of such warheads outside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

NATO has called the move "dangerous and irresponsible."
map weaponsites
© StateMag/StateGov/KJNBelarus potential nuclear weapons sites
Red/ Soviet-era nuclear storage facilities • Blue/ Airfields and bases

Lukashenka said it was "a mistake" that all strategic nuclear weapons were removed from Belarus after the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and that Russia's tactical nuclear weapons "must" stay in Belarus. He added, however, that Belarusian independence must be preserved "no matter what."

Lukashenka often talks up the dangers of an attack by NATO or Ukraine as the reason his country needs to keep its military in a constant state of high alert.

In the speech, he claimed opposition groups planned to seize an area in western Belarus and request support from NATO troops.

Belarus's security service said on April 25 it had thwarted an attack on Minsk by drones launched from Lithuania, a claim quickly refuted by officials in Vilnius.

Lukashenka called on the West to "end the standoff with Russia by calling it a draw," which would spur the peace process and end the conflict in Ukraine. "Otherwise Ukraine stops existing," he said.

The All-Belarusian People's Assembly is a general meeting of the government with industry leaders. It has previously been held six times from 1996 to 2021.

Opposition politicians and activists have criticized the event, calling it a tool of Lukashenka's propaganda intended to demonstrate unanimous support for the authoritarian leader, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994.