Eastern European nations such as Poland and Lithuania fear that Russia has fielded battlefield nuclear weapons near their borders, the Associated Press reported on Friday (see GSN, Feb. 9).
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller traveled to Poland, Ukraine and three Baltic nations last week to listen to officials' thoughts on nonstrategic nuclear arsenals.
Russia is thought to possess roughly 2,000 deployed tactical nuclear arms within its borders while the United States is believed to have about 200 battlefield nuclear weapons deployed in five NATO countries.
Gottemoeller said she listened to worries during her travels over Moscow's warnings that it could increase its deployment of tactical weapons in the Kaliningrad region, which is sandwiched between NATO member states Lithuania and Poland.
"There is a generalized concern about Kaliningrad and Russian propensity to, every time a concern is aroused in Moscow, to say, well, 'time to bring something else to Kaliningrad,'" said the U.S. diplomat, who led New START negotiations for the United States.
With the recent enactment of the treaty, which requires the United States and Russia to each cap their deployed strategic nuclear weapons at 1,550, attention has turned to potential new deliberations on curbing gravity bombs and other tactical nuclear weapons.
President Obama has said he wants to see U.S.-Russian treaty negotiations on the matter begin by next February, but the Kremlin has warned it would not consider reductions to its tactical arsenal if issues such as missile defense are not also addressed.
The Kremlin has not formally declared stationing nuclear arms in Kaliningrad, though leaders in surrounding states have no doubt the weapons are present in the region, AP reported. Lithuanian defense chief Rasa Jukneviciene said last week that it was "no secret" that the weapons were deployed near his nation (Vanessa Gera, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Feb. 11).
Gottemoeller would not discuss Jukneviciene's assertion, Agence France-Presse reported.
"I officially will not confirm or deny the deployment of nuclear weapons anywhere, neither within NATO countries nor anywhere else in the region," she said in Warsaw (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Feb. 11).
Polish Institute of International Affairs analyst Jacek Durkalec said he believes the Kremlin is unlikely to agree to reduce its nonstrategic nuclear missile arsenal, AP reported. Moscow sees those weapons as providing parity against NATO's conventional military edge in Europe, he said.
"The United States possess limited means of inducing Russia to take part in negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons," the analyst wrote in a report released last Wednesday.
Gottemoeller said she does not agree with that sentiment and that Moscow could see advantages in a tactical nuclear arms treaty (Gera, Associated Press).