Russia: BMD and the Kaliningrad Withdrawal

4 MINS READSep 18, 2009 | 18:13 GMT
The Russian envoy to NATO has announced that Russia will not deploy new missiles in Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. announcement that it will not pursue parts of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The announcement shows that Moscow does not consider the U.S. concession on BMD sufficient to win Russian support on isolating Iran.
Russia will not deploy any new missiles in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, Russian envoy to NATO Dmitri Rogozin said Sept. 18. The reason for the change in plans is the U.S. decision not to station parts of the Ballistic Missile Defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Rogozin explained the logic following his meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, saying "...if we have no radars or no missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland, we don't need to find some response." Rogozin's announcement shows that Moscow considers Washington's conciliatory move as only a first step, and that real U.S.-Russian negotiations that might lead to Russian assistance on isolating Iran are only at the beginning. To counter Washington's now-scrapped BMD plans, Moscow had threatened to place Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, known to NATO as the SS-26 "Stone," in Kaliningrad. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev officially announced the plan on Nov. 5, 2008, during his annual State of the State address (equivalent to the U.S. president's State of the Union address). Medvedev's speech coincided with U.S. President Barack Obama Nov. 7 electoral victory, challenging the incoming U.S. administration and putting it on notice that the Kremlin would go on the diplomatic offensive to respond to the Bush plans for a BMD deployment in Central Europe. Since then, the Kremlin has come to see the new U.S. administration as inexperienced in foreign affairs. Though Moscow frequently repeated the Iskander threat, the radar sites in the Czech Republic would have fallen outside the Iskander's limited range of between 175 to 250 miles — but would have made Warsaw extremely nervous. Despite their limited range, Iskanders are thought to be highly accurate, and their high maneuverability in the terminal stage of flight would have made them a difficult target to eliminate. But given that Iskander missiles never have been deployed successfully with any operational unit of the Russian military, the gravity of the threat remained difficult to assess. Even so, Russia warned that it might place the missiles in Belarus, too. This deployment would have been largely symbolic, as placement on Belarusian territory would essentially cover the same sites as the missiles placed in Kaliningrad, still leaving the radar sites in the Czech Republic out of reach. The value of the threat to the Kremlin lay in illustrating that just as the United States could use the BMD system to lock Poland and the Czech Republic into its sphere of influence, so too could Russia in regard to Belarus. Whether Moscow ever seriously considered deploying Iskander missiles is now a moot point. Rogozin's statement shows how the threat of the Kaliningrad deployment served as a bargaining chip for Russia regardless of the missiles' technical limitations. In Poland, relief over the scrapping of the Iskander deployment will temper dismay over the U.S. BMD cancellation. Moscow has recently tried to show its magnanimity toward Poland, with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin writing an editorial in a Polish daily. And Moscow will expects similar diplomatic bouquets from Warsaw. For its part, Washington is no doubt miffed that the Kremlin is treating the withdrawal of the Iskander system as equivalent to the planned scrapping of the BMD system. This piles on the pique already felt by the United States after Moscow announced Sept. 17 that the BMD cancellation represented the appropriate response to Russia's decision to allow the United States to transport military supplies through Russia and Central Asia to Afghanistan. These statements illustrate that Moscow wants even more before it will be prepared to help block Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

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