Adding to an already tense situation in Eastern Europe as Russian forces continue to attack Ukraine, voters in Belarus on Sunday approved constitutional reforms that will allow the country to host nuclear weapons, reversing a long-standing policy.
Russian news agencies cited the Belarusian elections commission as saying that 65.2 percent of those who took part in a referendum voted in favor of the change, reported Reuters.
The constitutional referendum ending the nation’s non-nuclear status opens the way for stronger military cooperation with Russia.
That translates into potentially allowing Russia to use Belarus as a launching pad for nuclear missiles.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic, has been used as a staging ground for Russian troops invading Ukraine.
The results of the referendum in Belarus could be seen as saber-rattling meant to not only threaten Ukraine, but other former states of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The vote comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the alert status for his nuclear forces to “special regime of combat duty” on Sunday, the fourth day of the Russian invasion.
Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus for 28 years and a close friend of Putin, indicated he would ask Russia to return nuclear weapons to his country for the first time since the country gave them up after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“If you [the West] transfer nuclear weapons to Poland or Lithuania, to our borders, then I will turn to Putin to return the nuclear weapons that I gave away without any conditions,” Lukashenko said, according to Reuters.
Western nations have stated they will not recognize the results of the referendum, which also grants power to Lukashenko and the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly created by Lukashenko and is made up of party loyalists, local councils, officials and members of pro-government organizations.
The new referendum also gives Lukashenko lifetime immunity from any prosecution should he ever leave office, Reuters reported.
The voter-approved referendum adds another wrinkle to an already complicated and deadly situation between Ukraine and Russia.
Earlier Sunday, Russia sent a delegation to Minsk in Belarus, saying it was willing to conduct peace talks with Ukraine there.
The move was seen as a de facto recognition of the fact that Ukrainian resistance to the Russian onslaught was fiercer than expected.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensyy initially said he would not engage in peace negotiations in a nation from where missiles were being launched at his nation.
Later, Ukraine agreed to hold peace talks with Russia at the Belarus border.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.