Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weekend pledge to transfer nuclear-capable missile systems to Belarus is being viewed by U.S. officials as “cavalier” and “irresponsible” language, a senior U.S. defense official said Monday.
“Certainly, any time anybody uses the word nuclear you have concerns. Quite honestly it seems pretty irresponsible of a national leader to talk about the employment of nuclear weapons and to do so in a generally cavalier fashion,” the defense official told reporters in an on-background briefing.
Putin on Saturday told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that the Kremlin will transfer Russian-made Iskander-M missile systems to Belarus “in the next few months.”
The mobile, short-range ballistic missile systems with a range of up to 310 miles “can use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both in conventional and nuclear versions,” the Russian leader told Lukashenko at a meeting in St. Petersburg, according to a readout from Moscow.
The U.S. defense official said Washington takes such threatening language seriously and has “from the very beginning” of Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24.
“The way that statement read from Putin was, ‘Hey we’re going to give them Iskanders, and oh, by the way, they can hold nuclear weapons.’ And everybody takes that very seriously when you use that language,” the official said.
“Our strategic forces are always monitoring things in that regard,” they added.
Putin has frequently made veiled nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West in its more than four-month war against its neighbor.
At the very start of the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin ordered his country’s deterrence forces, including nuclear weapons, be put on higher alert, citing so-called threats from the West.
He has also flouted Moscow’s nuclear might, warning that other countries which seem to interfere with Russian actions will face “consequences you have never seen.”