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Russia This Year to Field Short-Range Missiles Near NATO States: Source

Columns of Russian Iskander ballistic missiles, S-400 Triumph air- and missile-defense units and other systems roll through  Moscow’s Red Square in a 2010 parade. Russia plans to begin fielding Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad region in the second half of this year, a Russian Baltic Fleet source said (AP Photo/may9.ru). Columns of Russian Iskander ballistic missiles, S-400 Triumph air- and missile-defense units and other systems roll through Moscow’s Red Square in a 2010 parade. Russia plans to begin fielding Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad region in the second half of this year, a Russian Baltic Fleet source said (AP Photo/may9.ru).

Russia intends to field short-range missiles in territory that borders multiple NATO states in the latter half of 2012, Interfax on Wednesday quoted an insider with the nation's Baltic Fleet as saying (see GSN, Jan. 25).

"The higher command in Moscow endorsed the roster of a naval unit being set up to be armed with Iskander missile systems yesterday," the anonymous source said. "The staffing of this unit with officers, sergeants and draft servicemen under this organizational order should begin in the near future."

"The first battery armed with Iskander missiles will appear in the Kaliningrad region in the second half of 2012," the source said.

Iskander E ballistic missiles are intended for use in theater-level conflicts and have the ability to target missile firing facilities, missile and air defense units and important nonmilitary infrastructure, among other assets. The surface-to-surface missiles have a top range of 174 missiles, Interfax reported.

In November, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened Russia would send the Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad -- a Russian exclave that borders Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea -- if a compromise was not reached with NATO on its plans to establish a missile defense shield in Europe. Moscow says it suspects the antimissile system would be aimed against its long-range nuclear weapons even though Brussels and Washington insist the shield is intended to protect against a potential ballistic missile strike from the Middle East.

Russian S-400 Triumph air- and missile-defense units would be deployed to Kaliningrad in the spring before the Iskander weapons are sent there, the source told Interfax (Interfax I, Jan. 25)

The Lithuanian government on Wednesday pushed back against Russia for its Iskander missile threats, Agence France Presse reported (see GSN, Feb. 14, 2011).

"Russia has been strengthening and modernizing its armed forces in a western direction for some time, so there's no reason to link this to discussions on missile defense," Lithuanian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Ugne Naujokaityte said in an interview.

"The modernization of Kaliningrad with such weaponry is incomprehensible," she added (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, Jan. 25).

The head of NATO on Thursday acknowledged the impasse in missile shield talks with Russia, Reuters reported.

The sides have been in discussions for more than a year on areas for potential missile defense cooperation. Progress, though, has been hampered by the Kremlin's insistence that Washington provide a legally enforceable pledge that future U.S. missile interceptors in Europe would never be aimed at Russian strategic forces.

Disagreements also persist over the operation of the European missile defense system. NATO and the United States want two separate but connected shields, while Russia is pressing for a unified operation.

"I still hope we will be able to reach an agreement with Russia on missile defense cooperation," alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said to reporters. "However, I also have to make it clear that we have not made much progress so far."

The current situation reduces the potential for a Russian-NATO summit in Chicago in May, by which time officials had hoped to reach agreement on missile defense collaboration.

"Maybe we will not have a clarified situation until a few weeks before the summit," Rasmussen said. "We still keep it as an option to have a NATO-Russia summit in Chicago. But if there's no deal, probably there will be no (NATO-Russia) summit" (Sebastian Moffett, Reuters, Jan. 26).

The United States' chief envoy in Russia said he thinks substantial headway can ultimately be achieved in antimissile talks between the former Cold War foes, Interfax reported.

U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul told the Kommersant newspaper that once politically charged election seasons are over in both countries,  the two sides would be able to hold objective discussions on antimissile matters. Presidential elections are scheduled for March in Russia and for November in the United States (Interfax II, Jan. 25).

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