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Russian border missile reports spark international concern

© AFP archive

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-16

Reports that Russia has deployed nuclear-capable missiles near its borders sparked wide-spread concern on Monday, prompting protests from both neighbouring countries as well as the US.

The reactions come on the back of Russian and German media reports saying Moscow had deployed Iskander-M missiles in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad.

“The plans to deploy new Iskander-M rockets in Kaliningrad are worrying,” the foreign ministry in Warsaw said in a statement. "This is a matter for NATO and we can expect possible consultations and action (...) at the NATO and EU level," it added.

Warsaw said it had received no official word from Moscow about the deployment, which a Russian defence ministry spokesman confirmed on Monday.

Relations with Russia have been frosty since Poland shed communism in 1989 and went on to join NATO a decade later.

Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also had difficult ties with Moscow since they broke free from the Soviet Union in 1990-91 and joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

"It is clear that it is alarming news as it is one of the arguments changing balance of powers in our region," Latvia's Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said Monday, quoted by the Baltic News Service (BNS).

"It does not change the balance of power between NATO and Russia, but it changes balance of power in the region. It threatens several Baltic cities," he added.

He was echoed by Estonia and Lithuania whose defence ministers termed the move both "alarming" and "cause for concern".

'Could destabilize the region'

The United States also responded strongly to the news.

"We've urged Russia to take no steps to destabilize the region," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, adding the US had also passed on to Moscow its neighbors' concerns at the plans to deploy the missiles in the Kaliningrad area.

The Russian deployment comes in response to the planned US-led deployment of a disputed air defence shield.

The advanced version of the Russian missile has a range of 500 kilometres and could potentially be used to take out ground-based radar and interceptors of the new NATO shield.

The Kremlin warned in 2011 that it could station the short- and medium-range ballistic missiles along the European Union's eastern frontier in response to NATO's missile defence programme.

Both the United States and the Western military alliance have argued that the shield is not aimed at Russia but is designed to protect the West from potential threats from so-called "rogue states".

But Moscow fears the system -- whose components include missile-positioning satellites -- may one day be turned into an offensive weapon that targets Russian soil.

The Kremlin also believes the shield could in the future be expanded to a point that makes Russia's own vast nuclear arsenal ineffective.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2013-12-16


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