The United States warned Russia and Belarus at a UN arms control meeting on Thursday not to deploy nuclear arms in Moscow's neighboring ally following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Any movement of Russian nuclear weapons into Belarus would be dangerously provocative and further destabilize the region. We call on Belarus to reject Russia's policies of nuclear threat and intimidation,” U.S. envoy Aud-Frances McKernan told the Conference on Disarmament in remarks provided by the U.S. mission.
Her comments come as the Geneva-based conference debated Russia's invasion after Kyiv accused Moscow at the forum of “violating all key disarmament treaties.”
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A referendum in Belarus on Sunday approved a new constitution ditching the country's non-nuclear status at a time when the former Soviet republic has become a launch pad for Russia's military operation, Russian news agencies said.
The new constitution could see nuclear weapons on Belarusian soil for the first time since the country gave them up after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the conference earlier this week that Kyiv had been seeking to acquire nuclear arms, saying Moscow needed to prevent that.
But International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi told reporters in Vienna on Wednesday that the UN nuclear watchdog had no evidence to support Lavrov's allegation.
“For us, it is very clear. We do not have any information that would question the non-proliferation credentials of Ukraine,” he said. “It's important to say … that we continue our safeguards operation, and we don't have information that there's any deviation of material, any undeclared material or activities leading to the development of nuclear weapons.
“Some delegates saw the Ukraine crisis as an opportunity to revitalize the Conference on Disarmament, which has an ambitious formal mandate to negotiate weapons cuts but has not struck a deal since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
However, experts said there was little hope of a concrete outcome on the allegations of Ukraine and other members against Russia since the 65-member forum uses consensus decision-making.