Initially, Russian military officials threatened to beef up their defenses in Kaliningrad in response to the January 21 Polish announcement that in April they would house the Patriot missile base, manned by 100 U.S. troops, in the town of Morag -- just 60 kilometers from the border.
Then, inexplicably, the Russian Defense Ministry walked back the threat, saying they had no such plans to increase their forces.
General Anatoly Kornukov, the commander of Russia's Air Force, later told Interfax that the Patriot missiles pose no threat to Russia:
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov then weighed in at a press conference on January 22, saying he found the decision incomprehensible and that Moscow was still evaluating the matter:
Now let me get this straight. Poland is planning to deploy a Patriot missile base manned by 100 U.S. troops 60 kilometers from the Russian border in a few months and the reaction from Moscow is -- they are analyzing the situation?!?
This. Does. Not. Compute.
Russia has gone ballistic (no pun intended) over much less in the past.
So what's going on? I spoke to Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer to get his insight and here is what he had to say:
Felgenhauer says that Moscow is looking at the issue in the context of NATO's emerging strategy to defend its Eastern members from a potential Russian attack. There have been growing concerns, particularly in Poland and the Baltic states, that NATO's eastern borders remain largely unprotected and the alliance is planning to address those concerns as it drafts a new strategic concept:
So we can assume that we haven't heard the last from Moscow on the issue.
Meanwhile, Anatoly Isaikin, the head of Russia's state arms trader Rosoboronexport, today refused to rule out that Moscow would sell S-300 anti-aircraft hardware to Iran. After being asked repeatedly about the potential sale at a press conference in Moscow today, here is what Isaikin had to say:
Now I am not saying this is necessarily related to the Patriot missiles in Poland, but the symmetry is hard to ignore.
-- Brian Whitmore