Russia will send nuclear capable short-range missile systems to its ally Belarus in the coming months, President Vladimir Putin has said.

He said Iskander-M systems “can fire ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear types”.

The systems have a range of up to 500km (310 miles).

Tensions between Russia and the West have escalated, following President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February.

Mr Putin has made several references to nuclear weapons since then, which some have interpreted as a warning to Western countries not to intervene.

Speaking in St Petersburg, Mr Putin also said Russia would help to modify Belarusian SU-25 warplanes so that they could carry nuclear weapons, in response to a query from Mr Lukashenko.

In a separate development yesterday, Ukraine said Russian forces “have fully occupied” the key eastern city of Severodonetsk, following weeks of fierce fighting.