Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that he had intensified talks with Russia about deploying tactical nuclear weapons in his country, alleging there were plans to invade Belarus from neighbouring Poland, Reuters reports.
Speaking at an annual address to lawmakers and government officials, Lukashenko said Moscow's plans to station nuclear arms in Belarus would help "safeguard" the country, which he said was under threat from the West.
"Take my word for it, I have never deceived you. They are preparing to invade Belarus, to destroy our country," he told the audience.
President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, its first deployment of nuclear armaments outside its borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Lukashenko went further, saying he and Putin could decide if necessary to deploy strategic nuclear weapons - more powerful systems that can destroy whole cities from a range of thousands of miles - on Belarusian soil.
Belarus said this week that the Russian tactical nuclear weapons would offer protection after what it called a campaign of pressure from the United States and its allies aimed at overthrowing Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly three decades.
"I am not trying to intimidate or blackmail anyone. I want to safeguard the Belarusian state and ensure peace to the Belarusian people," Lukashenko said.
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he was concerned about the possibility Russia would send tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, calling the move "worrisome".
In Friday's speech, Lukashenko also called for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire in the Ukraine war, cautioning that Russia would be forced to use "the most terrible weapon" if it felt threatened.
"It is impossible to defeat a nuclear power. If the Russian leadership understands that the situation threatens to cause Russia's disintegration, it will use the most terrible weapon. This cannot be allowed," he said.
The Kremlin acknowledged Lukashenko's ceasefire proposal and said that Putin and Lukashenko would have an opportunity to discuss this next week, but said that the situation in Ukraine had not changed.
Ukraine has previously rejected Minsk's offer to broker peace. Kyiv says Russia continues to use Belarusian airspace for drone and missile strikes against Ukraine and used Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion in February last year.
Minsk has said it will not enter the war, but it is closely allied with Moscow and the two regularly hold joint military drills.