Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday claimed without evidence that his government needs to "safeguard" the Eastern European country from a looming Western invasion, saying he is seeking to station intercontinental nuclear missiles there to defend Belarus against the United States and other countries in the West.
In an hourslong speech to Parliament on the state of the nation, Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994 and whose 2020 reelection was disputed by hundreds of thousands of Belarusians, said the West is planning to take over both Belarus and its neighboring Poland.
"Take my word for it, I have never deceived you," said Lukashenko. "They are preparing to invade Belarus, to destroy our country."
For this reason, he said, he may use so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons that Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week the Kremlin would deploy in Belarus, if Putin agrees to their use. In addition, Lukashenko said he would seek intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of destroying whole cities from thousands of miles away, on Belarusian soil.
"Putin and I will decide and introduce here, if necessary, strategic weapons, and they must understand this, the scoundrels abroad, who today are trying to blow us up from inside and outside," Lukashenko told lawmakers and his constituents. "We will stop at nothing to protect our countries, our state, and their peoples. "We will protect our sovereignty and independence by any means necessary, including through the nuclear arsenal."
"Don't say we will just be looking after them, and these are not our weapons," he added. "These are our weapons and they will contribute to ensuring sovereignty and independence."
Putin said Saturday that the short-range nuclear weapons he plans to station in Belarus will remain under Russian control.
Belarus relinquished its nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Lukashenko noted in his speech that Belarus gave up the weapons under pressure from former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Russia's announcement last week that it would deploy weapons in Belarus would mark the country's first stationing of nuclear weapons outside its border in more than three decades.
U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the pending deployment is "worrisome."
"Belarus hosting Russian nuclear weapons would mean an irresponsible escalation and threat to European security," said European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell this week. "Belarus can still stop it, it is their choice. The E.U. stands ready to respond with further sanctions."
Lukashenko and Putin have strengthened their cooperation since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, with Belarus providing a staging ground for Russian troops.
The Belarusian leader's comments came amid ongoing attacks in Ukraine, with multiple rocket strikes in the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, the site of a nuclear power plant, on Friday. Lukashenko included in his speech a call for an immediate ceasefire "without preconditions," warning Ukraine that "it is impossible to defeat a nuclear power" and that Russia will use "the most terrible weapon" if it is threatened.
Thijs Reuten, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, denounced Lukashenko as Putin's "lapdog" and condemned his attempt to "blame the West."
"Truly troubling: Each of these steps brings Belarus closer to full-blown occupation," said Reuten. "The Belarusian people deserve so much better."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Julia Conley.