Iskander Missiles Deployed in Kaliningrad: Whom Do They Threaten?

Iskander Missiles Deployed in Kaliningrad: Whom Do They Threaten?

The Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missile system has been transported to the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland and Lithuania on a training mission.

The move was followed by angry reaction and grave concern expressed by officials and media of NATO countries.

The New York Observer has gone as far as to affirm that «This constitutes a direct challenge to Washington by Moscow—and by Vladimir Putin to Barack Obama, personally» with the Russia President seeking «to get in one last, grand strategic humiliation for our president before he leaves office».

It says «For Warsaw and several other NATO capitals, this move resembles a Baltic version of the Cuban Missile Crisis».

The United States said that moving the missiles could be a political gesture and expression of Moscow's displeasure with NATO. The Polish government called the move «very alarming». Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius affirms that some modifications of Iskander missiles can hit targets as far as 700 kilometers, which means they could reach the German capital Berlin from Kaliningrad.

If so, it would be a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) but the missile has never been tested out to this range, so the minister’s affirmation remains unconfirmed. The question is: where did he get this figure from? Lithuania said it would lodge a formal protest with Moscow. The Lithuanian foreign ministry also warned that Moscow was using the move to «seek concessions from the West».

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles had been moved into the Kaliningrad enclave as part of exercise.

Igor Konashenkov, the Ministry’s spokesman, condemned the ballyhoo raised by Western media and NATO member states over the missile deployment, saying the concern over the move was baseless since it was part of regular military maneuvers in the region. As a mobile system, it was used in training events across the country, covering great distances.

Previously, the Iskander was sent to Kaliningrad in 2015 as part of a series of military drills.

The Iskander-M, first introduced to the Russian military in 2013, is intended to use conventional or nuclear warheads for the engagement of small and area targets (both moving and stationary), such as hostile fire weapons, air and antimissile defense weapons, command posts and communications nodes and troops in concentration areas, among others at the distance of up to 500 kilometers.

The system can therefore destroy both active military units and targets to degrade the enemy's capability to wage war.

The deployment has taken place against the background of NATO boosting its military presence close to Russia’s borders.

The alliance has taken a decision to station up to 4,000 military personnel in Poland as well as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia starting next year. In addition, the US is set to begin rotating a heavy brigade, to be headquartered in Poland. In May, an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense (BMD) system became operational in Romania. In 2018, NATO plans to deploy a more advanced version of the BMD system in Poland. Air patrols are stepped in in the Baltic and Black seas among a host of other measures to whip up tensions.

US officials make openly hostile statements. It’s enough to remember what US Defense Secretary said on September 26, speaking to troops at Minot Air Force base, North Dakota.

Along with the remarks about the need to upgrade the nation’s nuclear arsenal, the Secretary said that if Russia is attacked by US allies, the Americans are prepared to support this attack and threaten to use nuclear weapons against Moscow! A very indicative statement indeed! Such rhetoric sounds especially cynical coming from the administration of Barack Obama, the President - a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The failure of UN Security Council to adopt a resolution on Syria is also a factor to negatively affect the relations between Russia and the West. There was a great chance missed.

France, the author of the resolution on the part of Western nations, knew the Russian position in advance but failed to take it into account. Evidently, it was done for propaganda purposes. The Russian draft resolution was also rejected off the cuff without anything like serious discussions.

NATO is an alliance of 28 nations with the overall defense budget of roughly about $850 billion. Only European members of the alliance spent $251 billion on defense in 2015.

To compare, the Russia’s military budget is US$52 billion-roughly 16 times less. The NATO’s superiority in weapons is overwhelming.

Is moving short range missile systems to the frontline at the time of drills not justified under the circumstances? Is it really a move to undermine the European stability against the background of hostile actions and bellicose statements coming from NATO? Has the alliance done anything to revive a constructive dialogue during the two sessions of Russia-NATO Council this year? Has it taken into account the Russia’s concern over bringing forces to its borders and proceeding with BMD plans?

After all, there are no Russian forces in Mexico, Canada, Cuba or anywhere else near the US borders at the time United States military are being deployed in Poland and the Baltic States with American naval forces operating in the Black and Baltic seas. Russian ships are not deployed on permanent basis in the Caribbean or the US Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Nobody else, but Germany’ Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has recently accused NATO of saber-rattling and war cries, calling for more dialogue and cooperation with Russia.

True, the tensions are running high but it’s not all doom and gloom in the Russia-NATO relations. Russian newspaper Izvestia reported on October 6 that NATO had asked Russia for another session of Russia-NATO Council to be held in October.

From this point of view, the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad outpost may serve as an incentive for some circles in NATO to change the attitude, revise the approaches, take the bull by the horn and launch a real constructive dialogue with Moscow instead of raising ballyhoo over purely defensive steps taken by Russia as part of NATO’s information war effort.