By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ISTANBUL (AA) – China on Monday called for “diplomatic efforts” toward a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis after Russia announced its plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus.
“In the current situation, relevant parties should focus on diplomatic efforts toward a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis and push together for an end to tensions,” Mao Ning, spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing.
In a move certain to stoke tensions in war-torn Ukraine and its Western allies, Russia will complete the construction of a special storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus, according to remarks made last Saturday by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia has already handed over to Belarus the Iskander complex, which can store nuclear weapons, Putin said.
However, Mao recalled that the five nuclear-weapon states issued a joint statement in January 2022 on preventing nuclear war, the Chinese daily Global Times reported.
According to Putin, his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko has long raised the issue of deploying Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which have not been present there since the early 1990s, when the USSR fell.
“We agreed with Lukashenko that we would place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus without violating the nonproliferation regime,” Putin said.
The US has long placed such weapons in a number of countries, so there is nothing unusual in Belarus’ request, Putin added.
Putin later said Russia deployed 10 aircraft, all capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, to Belarus.
“Ten aircraft are ready to use this type of weapon. We have already transferred to Belarus our well-known, very effective Iskander complex, it can also be a carrier (of tactical nuclear weapons),” he said.
Moscow will start training crews early in April, said Putin, adding that Russia would complete the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1 and the control of arms will not be transferred to Minsk.
Since Russia started the war in neighboring Ukraine 13 months ago, Western leaders and commentators have raised concerns that Moscow might make the conflict nuclear, often based on statements by the Russian side.