Russia won't tell US number of nuclear warheads in Belarus

FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov attends a news conference in Geneva

(Reuters) - Russia will not inform the U.S. about the number of nuclear warheads it is stationing in Belarus or tests of its nuclear-capable Poseidon torpedo, the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Friday.

Moscow and Minsk say Belarus has already begun receiving the Russian tactical, or short-range, nuclear weapons that President Vladimir Putin had publicly promised to station there, as tensions with the West soar over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"I deeply doubt that this topic will become the subject of any public discussion or disclosure on our part," Ryabkov was quoted as telling reporters in the southern town of Sochi.

"For decades the United States has kept its tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of a number of European countries, and it never gives exact numbers."

Short-range weapons do not fall under the terms of the New Start treaty, the last remaining U.S.-Russia arms control treaty, which caps the countries' strategic nuclear arsenals. Putin has suspended Russia's participation in it, although both sides have pledged to continue to respect its limits.

There is also no treaty or verification mechanism covering nuclear-capable and nuclear-powered autonomous torpedoes such as Poseidon, and Ryabkov said Russia therefore had no plans to inform the United States about tests of the system.

U.S. and Russian officials have both described Poseidon as a new category of retaliatory weapon, something of a cross between a torpedo and an underwater drone, capable of triggering radioactive ocean swells to attack naval battle groups or render coastal cities uninhabitable.

The state news agency TASS reported in January, citing an unidentified defence source, that Russia had produced the first set of Poseidon torpedoes for deployment on the Belgorod nuclear-powered submarine.

In April, TASS said Russia planned to form a division of special-purpose submarines that will carry Poseidon torpedoes as part of its Pacific Fleet by the end of 2024 or first half of 2025.

(Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)