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Russia has stationed Iskander missiles in western region: reports

An Iskander missle system is seen in an undated handout from the Kolomna Machine Construction Department

(Reuters) – Russia has deployed Iskander missiles with a range of hundreds of kilometers in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, the newspaper Izvestia reported on Monday.

The Izvestia report came after the German newspaper Bild reported on Saturday that secret satellite imagery showed Iskander-M missiles stationed near the Polish border.

The reports caused alarm in the Baltic states, which are wary of Russian military movements after decades of dominance by the Soviet Union. Their alarm was aggravated by tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

“It’s worrying news from a point of view of military experts,” Latvian Defence Minister Artis Pabrik said on public television. “… It makes the Baltic region and Baltic cities less safe, but it is not something that threatens us more than before, because NATO membership guarantees us quite high overall safety.”

The missiles have been in place “for some time,” according to Izvestia’s source, a high-level Defence Ministry official it did not name. Another unnamed military source said they deployed installed about a year and a half ago.

Russia said in 2011 it might put Iskanders in Kaliningrad, its westernmost region, as part of a response to an anti-missile shield the United States is building in Europe with help from NATO nations. There have been media reports since of plans to deploy the missiles but no clear statement by Russia that it had done so.

Asked about the reports, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Iskanders have been deployed in western Russia but did not specify any location. He said the deployments did not violate any international treaties. Konashenkov could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters.

Nuclear-armed Russia says it fears the Western anti-missile shield in Europe is meant to undermine its security, upsetting the post-Cold War strategic balance. The United States and NATO deny that, but efforts to turn years of confrontation over the issue into cooperation have failed.

“We are worried about militarization of Kaliningrad region and modernisation of its weaponry,” Juozas Olekas, Lithuania’s defense minister, said in an e-mail to Reuters. “We have repeatedly brought this issue up in various multilateral forums.”

In 2011, along with the specific threat to station Iskanders in Kaliningrad, then-President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia could deploy weapons in its west that would be able to destroy components of the anti-missile shield, which is to be completed after 2020 and includes interceptors missiles and radars.

“At the moment I can’t imagine Russia shooting into a NATO country … If this missile upgrade has already taken place, it’s just a show-off, and is intended to scare,” a senior Lithuanian official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Already strained by disagreements on issues from energy to human rights, relations between Russia and the West have been worsened by the situation in Ukraine, whose government last month ditched preparations for a trade pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow, its former master.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Larry King)


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