Kremlin shrugs off Kaliningrad missile fears
Russia claimed the right to put weapons anywhere it chooses on its territory after facing criticism for deploying nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.
From Russia’s exclave on the Baltic Sea, the missiles would be able to reach large parts of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The Iskander has been described as one of Russia’s most advanced missile systems, capable of firing several kinds of ballistic and cruise missiles. The Iskander can use electromagnetic pulses, earth-penetrating missiles known as bunker busters and nuclear warheads, among other weapons.
Russia has often announced plans to station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to counter the US missile shield being developed in Central European and Balkan states. The US says the shield is to counter possible missile attacks by Iran while the Kremlin says it is anti-Russian.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said it had approved the sale of 200 offensive and defensive missiles to Finland, which is not a member of Nato and borders with Russia. Costing more than US$700 million, the missiles are Harpoons, designed to be used on Finnish warships and by missile defence ashore, and Sea Sparrows for new warships Finland is due to acquire in 2020.
The Kremlin has not confirmed the Kaliningrad deployment but presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The deployment of one weapon or another, the deployment of military units and so forth on Russian territory, is exclusively a sovereign issue for the Russian Federation. Russia has never threatened anyone and is not threatening anyone. Naturally, Russia has this sovereign right. It should hardly be cause for anyone to worry.”
Washington has accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by equipping the Iskander-K variant with R-500 intermediate-range cruise missiles with a range beyond 500km. The treaty restricts ground-based missiles with a range between 500 and 4,800km. Russia says the US violated the treaty by deploying the Aegis missile shield in Europe.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Nato must look to boost defence capabilities.
“It means that what we have been talking about — the necessity to discuss strengthening air defense elements during the Nato summit in July, strengthening the chain of command, to talk about many questions that affect defense of our region and Latvia specifically — it all has been confirmed by the practical actions of Russia,” Rinkevics told the media.
The Swedish island of Gotland is close to Kaliningrad. Picture credit: Wikimedia