Kyiv city authorities say they are strengthening defenses after ‘quiet’ night

People cast their ballots in the 2022 Belarusian constitutional referendum in the capital, Minsk, on Sunday. (Peter Kovalev/TASS/Getty Images)

Belarus announced on Sunday that it would give up its non-nuclear status, following the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the former Soviet nation last week.

The country’s authorities – led by strongman Alexander Lukashenko backed by Moscow for nearly three decades – said the decision was backed by a referendum.

According to Belarus’ Central Election Commission, some 78.63 percent of the eligible voting population took part in the vote, with 65.16 percent in favor of a new constitution that will remove the country’s non-nuclear status and give Lukashenko the possibility of standing for two additional elections. warrants.

But Western leaders will not recognize the legitimacy of Sunday’s vote. In a January statement, the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the referendum as “neither a viable path — nor a credible one — for Belarus.”

The vote follows a years-long violent crackdown by the Lukashenko regime against its domestic political opponents, following the disputed 2020 presidential election that was marred by fraud and sparked mass protests.

What this could mean for Russia: Belarus’s new constitution could theoretically allow Moscow to plant nuclear weapons on its neighbor’s territory for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, when Minsk gave up its stockpile and became a nuclear-free zone.

Amendments and additions to the constitution adopted in the referendum will come into effect in 10 days, according to Lukashenko’s office.

Lukashenko and Putin: Speaking to reporters at a polling station in Minsk on Sunday, Lukashenko said he could ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to “return the nuclear weapons” that Belarus has donated if the West transfers nuclear weapons to Poland. or Lithuania.

“If America or… France, two nuclear powers, start transferring nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, on our borders… I will go to Putin to give me back the nuclear weapons that I, without any special conditions, gave it to them,” Lukashenko said.

In his on-camera remarks, Lukashenko also accused the West of “pushing Russia into starting World War III”, before warning that “nuclear war would end the world”.

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