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NATO Says Russian Missile Deployment Threatens Arms-Control Efforts

  • Ahto Lobjakas

An Iskander missile launcher

An Iskander missile launcher

BRUSSELS -- NATO has expressed grave concern about the future of the global arms-control framework in the wake of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's state-of-the-nation address.

Medvedev announced Moscow's intention to deploy missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, nestled between NATO members Poland and Lithuania, to "neutralize" a planned U.S. missile-defense system.

The Russian president's decision to deploy short-range Iskander missile launchers in the country's westernmost territory did not come as a complete surprise to the West.

More than a year ago, on February 14, 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin gave warning in a speech delivered in Munich that Russia would "be forced" to target parts of a U.S. missile-defense system if they were installed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The two countries this year signed agreements with the United States to host the sites. Speaking before the Russian nation on November 5, Medvedev responded by saying his predecessor's threat will become a reality.

"In order to be able to neutralize the [U.S.] missile-defense system, we will deploy an Iskander missile complex in Kaliningrad Oblast," he said.

'Rogue' States

The United States says the radar installation in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland are intended to counter perceived threats from "rogue" states, such as Iran, and should in no way affect the NATO-Russia military balance.

Robert Pszczel, a NATO spokesman, said on November 5 that if carried out, the Russian plans could seriously undermine "existing arms control arrangements which are important for European security."

The post-Cold-War arms-control framework deteriorated after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. The move led to Russia to withdraw from the START II arms-reduction treaty, leaving in place its antiquated predecessor, START I, which is to expire in December 2009.

In 2007, Russia suspended its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which limited conventional weapons and forces between the Atlantic and the Urals. The same year, Russian military officials openly questioned the usefulness of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said Washington is seeking to negotiate a new comprehensive antimissile treaty with Moscow.

"I believe that it could involve further cuts and the number of deployed warheads," Gates said. "I believe we do need the verification provisions, but I think it ought to be an agreement that is shorter, simpler, and easier to adjust to real world conditions than most of the strategic arms agreements that we've seen over the last 40 years."

Further Escalation

Russia's new Iskander-type missiles are reported to have a range of about 500 kilometers. The INF treaty, signed between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1987, currently bans ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Intermediate-range threats were seen as one of the most destabilizing aspects of the Cold War.

Russia has so far not officially said it wants to abandon the INF treaty. But Medvedev did say Russia will not proceed with plans to scrap some of its domestic missile detachments previously considered obsolete.

The Russian move to place missiles in Kaliningrad also signals a further escalation in its stand-off with the alliance.

NATO suspended the regular ambassador-level meetings of the NATO-Russia Council in August in the wake of Moscow's military action against Georgia. NATO sources say the forum is unlikely to reconvene before December, when NATO foreign ministers will discuss the future of the alliance's relations with Moscow.

The same meeting is tasked with deliberating whether to give Georgia and Ukraine NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs).

The United States, a strong backer of MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine, is said to link the resumption of full NATO contacts with Russia to Moscow's compliance with the Medvedev-Sarkozy Plan for Georgia, which commits Moscow to withdraw its troops to preconflict lines.

'Gifts To Russia'

On November 5, Medvedev sought to cast the differences over Georgia, NATO expansion, and U.S. missile-defense plans as parts of a broad Western strategy of encroachment aimed to weaken Russia.

"What have we had to face in recent years? The formation of a global missile-defense system, the encirclement of Russia by military bases, NATO's unrestrained expansion, and other gifts to Russia," Medvedev said. "We are forming the strong impression that our patience is really being tested."

Russia's intended placement of new missiles in Kaliningrad will also serve to emphasize the precarious security situation of the alliance's new Eastern European member states.

Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus said the Russian missile deployment to Kaliningrad is "beyond comprehension," while Latvia's Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins said it represented a return to the ways of the Cold War.
RFE/RL Russia Report

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