The Russian president has arrived in Belarus to talk cooperation on security, energy and other issues Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko welcomes his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin upon arrival at Minsk airport, May 23, 2024 © Mikhail Metzel / Pool via Sputnik

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Belarus for a two-day state visit that will include talks on the former Soviet republic’s involvement in nuclear weapons drills.

“We’ll talk about the second phase of the exercise,” Putin said after being greeted by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday at the Minsk National Airport. “This is related to direct participation of our Belarusian friends and colleagues in these events.”

Russian troops began the first phase of the tactical nuclear exercise on Tuesday in the Southern Military District, which includes Crimea and four formerly Ukrainian territories in the Donbass region. Moscow said the drills are meant to demonstrate its ability to respond to external threats, thereby deterring further escalation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict by Kiev’s Western backers.

The exercise involves delivery of nuclear weapons to troops from storage sites, the arming of missiles with tactical nuclear warheads, and covert deployment of such weaponry.

Russia launches tactical nuclear drills (VIDEO) Russia launches tactical nuclear drills (VIDEO)

After the Kremlin announced the drills earlier this month, citing an “unprecedented” escalation of tensions with the US and its allies over Ukraine, Lukashenko immediately ordered similar exercises to test Belarus’ nuclear-capable weapon systems, including Iskander missile launchers.

Last year, Putin agreed to store a small number of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, after Lukashenko made a “friendly request” for such a deterrent. Back then, Lukashenko also stated that he would not hesitate to use them if his country is attacked.

French President Emmanual Macron and other Western leaders have recently hinted at potential deployment of NATO forces in Ukraine and the use of their weapons by Ukrainian troops to strike targets deep inside Russian territory.

Russian ally announces snap nuclear drill Russian ally announces snap nuclear drill

Putin said he previewed his visit to Belarus by discussing issues of bilateral cooperation with members of the Russian cabinet. That meeting covered such topics as security, energy and agriculture issues. Some other Russian leaders are scheduled to arrive in Minsk on Friday to participate in the talks.

Lukashenko invited Putin for the visit, which marks the Russian leader’s second foreign trip since being sworn in for his fifth term as president on May 7. Putin traveled to China last week for talks with President Xi Jinping, and he’s scheduled for a state visit to Uzbekistan on May 26-27.

The state-run press service in Belarus said Lukashenko’s talks with Putin will cover the full range of relations between the countries, including trade, humanitarian issues, and joint projects. (RT)