VLADIMIR Putin is sending tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus on the border with Nato, in a major escalation of tensions over Ukraine.
The Russian President today claimed it will not violate non-proliferation agreements, after the two countries struck a deal.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders Poland, Putin told state television.
"There is nothing unusual here either: firstly, the United States has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries," he said.
"We agreed that we will do the same – without violating our obligations, I emphasise, without violating our international obligations on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons."
Russia will have completed the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by July 1, Putin said, adding that Moscow would not actually be transferring control of the arms to Minsk.
Russia has stationed 10 aircraft in Belarus capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons, he said, adding that Moscow had already transferred to Belarus a number of Iskander tactical missile systems that can be used to launch nuclear weapons.
It comes after Russia issued a warning to Britain over plans to potentially arm Ukraine with tank shells containing depleted uranium.
Moscow is fuming over the plan – with one of Putin's officials decrying it as "genocide" and another warning of a "nuclear collision".
"This is a step towards a further escalation, and a serious one at that," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
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He added that the use of such ammunition would "sharply reduce" Ukraine's ability to "produce high-quality, uncontaminated food".
It came after Putin vowed Russia would be "forced to react" to any such moves by the UK.
And meanwhile nuclear capable bombers have been active over Europe, with incredible footage showing a B-52 flanked by six Nato fighter jets.
Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu also fired a warning at the UK.
“Only one thing can be said here: there are not so many steps, another step has been passed, and there are fewer and fewer of them," said Shoigu.
When asked whether this meant that the world was closer to a nuclear collision, he replied: "It was not by chance that I told you about steps.
"There are fewer and fewer."
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also hit back – accusing the UK of "genocide".
“The use of ammunition with depleted uranium is a manifestation of genocide of the population against which it is used and the people who use them," she said.
Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear enriching process used to make nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons. It is around 60 percent as radioactive as natural uranium.
Its heaviness lends itself for use in armour piercing rounds as it helps them easily penetrate steel.
The United Nations Environment Program has described it as a "chemically and radiologically toxic heavy metal".
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Earlier this month, a Russian fighter jet intercepted a pair of US nuclear bombers.
Footage taken from the Su-35 shows it flying beside one of two massive B-52s while Russian Tu-95 Bear nuclear bombers were seen taking off in a show of force.
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