Russia on Monday revealed it had sent ballistic missiles to territory that borders several NATO nations, all of which have voiced alarm over the deployment.
Nuclear-capable Iskander missiles are being fielded in the Kaliningrad region -- a Russian exclave that borders NATO member states Poland and Lithuania, the Russian Defense Ministry disclosed. The nonstrategic missiles have top ranges of between 250 and 310 miles, according to various media reports.
It is not presently known if the missiles fielded in the Kaliningrad are equipped with nuclear or conventional warheads. It is also not clear how long they have been deployed or what caused Moscow to discuss their fielding, the New York Times reported
"Iskander rocket complexes are indeed standing armed with the rocket and artillery divisions in the Western Military District," a region that encompasses Kaliningrad, ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
An anonymous high-ranking Russian army official told Izvestia the missiles had been fielded in the area for more than a year.
Moscow has warned for a while that it could deploy Iskander missiles to the Kaliningrad region in response to NATO's ongoing efforts to construct an alliance-wide ballistic missile shield.
Russia has particularly opposed a U.S. initiative to field by about 2018 next-generation missile interceptors in Poland. Washington maintains that the interceptors will be focused on countering potential medium-range missile assaults from Iran. Russia has called for -- to no avail thus far -- legally binding assurances that the U.S. interceptors will never be aimed against its own strategic missiles.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a Monday video-conference with his Russian opposite, Sergei Shoigu, said that Washington and NATO would continue to develop the missile shield regardless of recent headway made in resolving longstanding international concerns about Iran's nuclear capabilities, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Polish Defense Ministry said the Iskander deployment was "disturbing" and could lead to "consultations and action ... at the NATO and EU level," Agence France-Presse reported. Fellow NATO countries Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the United States also have voiced worries about the missiles.
"We've shared with Russia the concerns that countries in the neighborhood have" regarding the Iskander deployment, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. "We've urged Moscow to take no steps to destabilize the region."
Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said the missiles do "not change the balance of power between NATO and Russia, but it changes balance of power in the region. It threatens several Baltic cities," he continued in remarks reported by AFP.