Russia’s stated plan to place nuclear weapons in Belarus is proof that talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in March failed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday.
Though China had appeared to position itself as a peace broker between Russia and Ukraine in the weeks leading up to Xi’s three-day state visit to Moscow, the meetings between the two leaders did not yield a meaningful breakthrough on resolving the conflict.
“The signal that Russia wants to place their nuclear weapons in Belarus tells me that the meeting with China was unsuccessful, it’s failed,” Zelensky told reporters during a visit to Bucha.
The Ukrainian president also said Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has “lost any importance,” claiming he “doesn’t decide anything about what kind of weapons are based in his country.”
Some background: Putin announced last week that Moscow will construct a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, completing it by the start of July. Lukashenko welcomed the move in a national address Friday, adding that Russia could also station strategic nuclear weapons in his country.
The mentioning of strategic nukes, which can decimate entire cities, is an escalation in rhetoric from Lukashenko. Russia has not publicly announced any plans to send strategic nuclear weapons to Belarus.
Global reaction: While there is no guarantee Putin will follow through on his plans for Belarus, any nuclear signaling by Putin causes concern in the West.
Ukraine, NATO and the European Union’s top diplomat have condemned the plan. The US has downplayed the move, saying there are no indications Russia will use nuclear weapons.
The nuclear announcement comes as Putin faces mounting problems elsewhere. Read CNN analysis on the decision here.
CNN’s Andrew Carey, Ivana Kottasová, Lindsay Isaac and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.