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Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko (L) speaks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) during their meeting at the State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 27, 2022. (Alexey Danichev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
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Russia and Belarus have begun the second stage of tactical weapons nuclear drills, the Kremlin's Defense Ministry said on June 11 amid escalating tensions between Moscow and the West.

"The situation on the European continent is quite tense, which is provoked every day by new decisions and actions of European capitals hostile to Russia, and above all by Washington," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments reported by Reuters.

Last month Russia said the exercises were a response to what it described as "provocative statements and threats by certain Western officials against the Russian Federation."

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly made nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in February 2022. The threats have failed to materialize, and Russia continues to wage its all-out war without using its nuclear arsenal.

In May, Putin visited Belarus and met Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to discuss the potential participation of the Belarusian military in Russia's non-strategic nuclear drills.

The latest drills will see Russian and Belarusian forces working on training "for the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons," the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Both leaders have dismissed foreign concerns over the nuclear drills. Lukashenko claimed that this was the third drill since the alleged deployment of Russian tactical nuclear warheads in Belarus in 2023.

Putin said that Russia’s training in the use of nuclear weapons was a routine procedure.

“The only difference is that after the deployment of part of the non-strategic nuclear capabilities in Belarus, we are conducting them together with our Belarusian allies,” Putin said.

Belarus has been a key ally to Moscow and supported Russian aggression against Ukraine, though it has not committed its own forces directly to hostilities. The country is also reportedly hosting Russian tactical nuclear arms on its territory.

The first stage of the exercises, which were ordered by Putin on May 6, involved missile units in Russia's Southern Military District, including the occupied territories of Ukraine.

Lukashenko ordered a sudden inspection of the country's tactical nuclear weapons launchers the following day.

The nuclear weapons allegedly located in Belarus cannot be used without Moscow's authorization.

The United States may have to increase its deployment of strategic nuclear weapons amid growing threats from China, Russia, and other adversaries, a White House official said on June 7.

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