With Belarus' longtime strongman ruler Alexander Lukashenko in the international spotlight over this past week as tensions soar with Poland over the migrant border crisis, he's been touting his close relationship with Putin while also threatening to shut off the Yamal natural gas pipeline to Europe - something which Putin warned against in fresh statements this weekend.
The threat to shut off energy supplies to Europe is something the Kremlin has distanced itself from, given especially it puts Russia in an awkward position at a moment the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is in the last hurdles of German regulatory approval. The Belarus matter can now be use by critics of NS2 to further their argument that Russia is being handed too much geopolitical and resource leverage over Europe's energy independence. The fight over the Russia-to-Germany pipeline is not over.
Despite Putin cautioning Minsk as the row with Europe rapidly escalates, Lukashenko is asking for more, as Reuters reports over the weekend: "Pesident of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko wants Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missile systems to deploy in the south and west of the country, he said in an interview with a Russian defense magazine published on Saturday."
"I need several divisions in the west and the south, let them stand (there)," Lukashenko was quoted as saying. Reuters summarized further of the hugely provocative request:
Lukashenko told National Defense magazine that he needed the Iskander mobile ballistic missile system, which has a range of up to 500 kilometers (311 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.
Despite the Kremlin not commenting on the statements when pressed by Western reporters, there's little doubt that it's the most inconvenient moment possible to open up such a discussion as provocative as nuclear weapons - again given it appears Russia is trying to distance itself from some of Belarus' leaders' most outlandish statements.
It should be noted that Lukashenko floated the idea of deploying the nuke-capable systems "in the south and west" of Belarus. Crucially, the countries lying to the west of Belarus are EU members Poland and Lithuania, and to the south lies NATO-friendly Ukraine.
While Russia and Belarus remain part of a closely cooperative "union state" - such an action as Russia transferring such weaponry to Belarus would without doubt trigger a crisis on par with the 2014 Crimean crisis, and potentially leading to war with NATO.