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Russia tells United States: don't lecture Moscow on nuclear deployments

FILE PHOTO: A meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, in Moscow

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Saturday dismissed criticism from U.S. President Joe Biden over Moscow's plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, saying Washington had for decades deployed just such nuclear weapons in Europe.

Russia said on Thursday it was pushing ahead with the first deployment of such weapons outside its borders since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the weapons were already on the move.

Biden said on Friday he had an "extremely negative" reaction to reports that Russia has moved ahead with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The U.S. State Department denounced the Russian nuclear deployment plan.

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"It is the sovereign right of Russia and Belarus to ensure their security by means we deem necessary amidst of a large-scale hybrid war unleashed by Washington against us," Russia's embassy in the United States said in a statement.

"The measures we undertake are fully consistent with our international legal obligations."

The United States has said the world faces the gravest nuclear danger since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis because of remarks by President Vladimir Putin during the Ukraine conflict, but Moscow says its position has been misinterpreted.

Putin, who has cast the Ukraine war as a battle for the survival of Russia against an aggressive West, has repeatedly warned that Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than any other country, will use all means to defend itself.

Tactical nuclear weapons are used for tactical gains on the battlefield, and are usually smaller in yield than the strategic nuclear weapons designed to destroy U.S., European or Russian cities.

The Russian Embassy called the U.S. criticism of Moscow's planned deployment hypocritical, saying that "before blaming others, Washington could use some introspection".

"The United States has been for decades maintaining a large arsenal of its nuclear weapons in Europe. Together with its NATO allies it participates in nuclear sharing arrangements and trains for scenarios of nuclear weapons use against our country."

The United States has deployed nuclear weapons in Western Europe since U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower authorised their deployment in the Cold War as a counter to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The first U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe were deployed in Britain in 1954.

Much of the detail about the current U.S. deployment is classified, though the Federation of American Scientists says that the U.S. has 100 B61 tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe - in Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Frances Kerry)