Russia has moved a nuclear-capable Iskander missile system to the Kaliningrad enclave, the defence ministry in Moscow said on October 8, confirming earlier reports by alarmed Estonia.
Russia’s step up of its military presence in Kaliningrad has become a serious concern for Nato neighbours Poland and the Baltic states in recent years. The move was not entirely unexpected, however, given the exclave’s strategic importance for Moscow in an atmosphere of heightened tension with the West.
Estonian officials raised the alarm the previous day after having learned Russia was shipping the Iskander-M missile system, which has a range of 500 kilometres, aboard a bulk cargo vessel from Ust-Luga to Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad region. Russia dismissed the concerns, claiming the move was not covert and the intention was to “specify parameters of operation of a US reconnaissance satellite,” ERR reported.
“Contingents of missile troops have been moved many times and will continue to be moved to the Kaliningrad region as part of a Russian armed forces training plan,” a spokesman added.
Predictably, the Russian move put the Baltic states and Poland on alert. “In the long term, Russia’s wish is to bring the Baltic Sea and the passages leading to it more and more under its control, and to control it much like it does the Black Sea,” Chief of Staff of the Estonian Defence Forces Riho Terras said.
“Such actions are possible violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty; they increase tension in the region, undermine trust, and have a negative impact on security in the region,” the Lithuanian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“That is yet another indication of Russia’s aggressive stance toward NATO countries and proof of the necessity to fully implement the decisions on strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defence posture taken at the NATO Summit in Warsaw,” the ministry added.
Polish think tank the Centre of Eastern Studies (OSW) noted that placing the Iskander system in the Kaliningrad region has been Russia’s intention since at least 2012. Moscow has long maintained a missile troops brigade in the region, although with the older Tochka missile system that has shorter range and is not capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
At its July summit in Warsaw, Nato declared plans to boost troop and weapons on its eastern European flank as a response to heightened geopolitical tension with Russia. The alliance announced at its summit in Warsaw that it will station a rotational battalion of 1,000 troops in each Baltic state and Poland from 2017.
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