Belarus joins Russia's tactical nuclear drills

The defense ministry of Belarus, a Russian ally, says its forces are participating in Russia's military exercises to simulate the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons.

The ministry on Monday said units from Belarus's armed forces are taking part in the second stage of the Russian drills.

Belarusian defense minister Viktor Khrenin criticized the West for stirring up tensions in the region, saying the leaders of Western nations are pursuing an aggressive military policy and show no readiness for constructive dialogue.

Khrenin said his side is determined more than ever to respond to any threats posed to both his country and Russia.

Russia's defense ministry late last month announced the start of the first stage of the exercises in the Southern Military District, which also serves as a base for Russia's offensive in Ukraine. Belarus had been expected to join in the second stage.

While Russian tactical nuclear weapons have been deployed in Belarus, this was the first time the Russian ally has participated in drills involving such weapons. Experts say the move could lead to an escalation of tensions with Western countries.

The drills are seen as an attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration to flaunt nuclear power and restrain Western countries, including the United States, that have recently given Ukraine permission to hit targets in Russia with weapons supplied by them.