Russian Missiles on NATO's Border

4 MINS READNov 30, 2010 | 19:11 GMT
An undated photo shows Russian Iskander missile complex on display
An undated photo shows Russian Iskander missile complex on display
The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 30 that Russia had moved ground-based tactical nuclear warheads to its borders with NATO member states. A senior Russian lawmaker denied the report the same day. The report likely refers to a deployment of Iskander missiles not far from the Estonian border. Whether or not that is the case, the report's timing is of interest, as it comes as NATO is divided over how to handle Russia, the U.S.-Russian START treaty faces new scrutiny and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev raises the specter of a new arms race.
Mikhail Margelov, the senior Russian lawmaker in charge of foreign affairs, on Nov. 30 rejected The Wall Street Journal's report that Russia had moved ground-based tactical nuclear warheads to its borders with NATO member states. The report, published the same day as Margelov's response, cited unidentified U.S. officials who said Russia had moved the weapons in the spring, around the time when the United States first deployed (on a rotational basis) Patriot air defense missiles to Poland, near Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad. STRATFOR has reported for some time on Russia's deployment of new missile systems. The country has myriad systems that could be described as short-range tactical nuclear missiles, though the source in The Wall Street Journal report most likely is referring to the Iskander mobile short-range ballistic missile system. Russia has deployed the Iskander-M (known as the "Tender") across the country in the past year. The Iskander-M has a 400-kilometer (nearly 250-mile) range, which falls under the international and bilateral missile control treaties to which Russia is committed. STRATFOR sources have indicated that five Iskander missile brigades are already stationed and in service in Luga, near St. Petersburg; Kamenka, in the Ural region; Ulan-Ude, north of Mongolia; Semistochni, in the Far East; and Znamensk, in the northern Caucasus. With these systems in place, Moscow feels that it has modern, accurate short-range ballistic missiles positioned in each of Russia's geographically vulnerable areas. Sources have indicated that the next batch of Iskanders could be used to reinforce the Caucasus, with others placed outside Moscow and possibly in Kaliningrad. The missile deployment referred to in the report is most likely the deployment in Luga, 130 kilometers (81 miles) from the border with Estonia. However, the concern now is whether Russia has started or completed a deployment to Kaliningrad, which could hit targets across Lithuania and the majority of Poland, including the previously proposed U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) site. Russia has repeatedly denied deploying any missile system in Kaliningrad, but the plans have long been on the table, STRATFOR sources have said. Though the Iskanders have been deployed most of the year, the report's publication (whether it referred to the Iskanders or not) has been carefully timed. The report comes out after an overall disappointing NATO summit in Lisbon in which fractures in the alliance were visible. NATO's Central European members want the alliance to counter Russia's growing influence in the region. Missile deployment and missile defense are at the top of their list of priorities. The Wall Street Journal report strengthens the Central Europeans' case. As Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis reportedly told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in recent weeks, "Being a NATO member, of course, someone could say, 'Don't worry.' But when you're living in the neighborhood, you should always be more cautious." The report also solidifies the stance of those in the U.S. Senate against the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Those against START have said Russia is less than transparent on its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons and their location. U.S. ratification of the new START agreement has stalled for the time being, and a leak about Russia's deploying even more missiles to NATO's border just strengthens the argument against the treaty, even though the delay is souring relations with Russia. Lastly, the report was released the same day that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev gave his annual State of the State address in which he said that if Russia and the West cannot reach an agreement over missile defense, a new arms race would commence. Russia expressed its concerns, warning against the installation of a BMD system in Central Europe, when the United States deployed Patriot missiles in Poland. Russia has started to react by deploying its own arsenal on the front line with NATO, and the West is now realizing it.

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