Concerned about an impending Ukrainian counteroffensive benefiting from NATO’s backing of Kyiv, Moscow has recently doubled down on its nuclear threats by formalizing a deal with Minsk on the stationing of Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

Signed on Thursday, the agreement to redeploy part of Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal to Belarus doesn’t only mark a paradigm shift in Moscow’s military posture — it’s the first nuclear arms transfer beyond Russia’s borders since the fall of the Soviet Union — it is also a sharp escalation of the 16-month-old conflict in Ukraine.

While essentially a military move, experts view Moscow’s decision to place nuclear arms closer to not only Ukraine but also NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania — all of which border Belarus — as mainly an act of political posturing designed to intimidate the West and incite widespread fear of Russian nuclear weapons use in Europe.