Belarus to face more sanctions over nuclear arms plan, Poland says

FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki leaves after an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium March 24, 2023. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS

WARSAW (Reuters) - Belarus will certainly face further European sanctions due to a Russian plan to station tactical nuclear weapons in the country, Poland's prime minister said on Tuesday, as tensions between Warsaw and Minsk hit new highs.

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday Russia would station the nuclear arms in Belarus, his latest gambit in a worsening stand-off with the West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

"This step taken by Russia... the announcement of the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, will certainly lead to the announcement of additional sanctions, the level of sanctions will be much more severe for the Lukashenko regime," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference in Bucharest, referring to the Belarusian president.

The United States, the world's other leading nuclear superpower, has reacted cautiously to Putin's statement, with a senior Biden administration official saying there were no signs Moscow planned to use its nuclear weapons.

However, Lithuania has said that it will call for new sanctions against Moscow and Minsk in response to Russia's plan.

Morawiecki said he was in daily talks with other European Union leaders about an 11th package of sanctions against Russia and that it would include more measures targeting Belarus, a close ally of Moscow.

Relations between Warsaw and Minsk were strained even before the war in Ukraine made them allies of opposing sides in the conflict.

Poland accuses Belarus of orchestrating a migrant crisis along its borders which reached a peak in 2021, though migrants continue to arrive at the frontier today. Minsk denies pushing migrants towards the border.

The two neighbours are also in dispute over the jailing of a journalist of Polish origin in Belarus and the vandalism of Polish graves in the country.

Amid the deteriorating ties, Poland closed one of its key border crossings with Belarus in February, a move Minsk has condemned. On Tuesday, Morawiecki said Poland was considering further limitations on cross-border traffic.

"We border Belarus and, as part of our bilateral relations, we are considering tightening the parameters of passenger and freight traffic in order to send a signal that we do not accept actions that serve Russia in its aggressive actions in Ukraine."

(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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