Drawing by Konstantin Maler
The German tabloid Bild's recent report about Russia deploying 9K720 Iskander-M theatre ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad Region sparked an outcry in Europe and elsewhere in the world. All the more so that, according to the article, the Iskander (NATO reporting name SS-26 Stone) can destroy a variety of ground targets, from missile systems and long-range artillery pieces to air defence and anti-ballistic missile (ABM) infrastructure. Bild additionally stressed the Iskander system's mobility, stealth, and short standby-to-launch times.
The tabloid failed to provide the “classified satellite imagery” it was referring to, so it is hard to believe its statements that there are indeed Iskander-M's in Kaliningrad Region. In fact, the Russian military in its formal reaction did not mention any specific deployment areas, saying only that the missiles were not stationed in the Western Military District (of which Kaliningrad Region is a part).
Bild also omitted to explain to its readers what (or who) could have caused Moscow to put theatre ballistic missiles so close to the EU borders. The explanation is simple: Russia is being made to do so by Germany's NATO ally, the U.S. But how, and why?
One of the reasons is that the U.S. keeps 180 tactical nuclear charges at six air bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey – unlike Russia, which stores all its tactical nuclear munitions within its borders. The B61 bombs are intended for delivery by McDonnel Douglas F-15E and Lockheed Martin F-16 warplanes. Both these aircraft types are in service with even non-nuclear NATO members, including the Belgian, Dutch, and Turkish air forces.
Germany and Italy operate Panavia Tornado fast jets, which can also carry B61 bombs. B61-capable NATO fighters from different European countries take turns on combat duty near the town of Siauliai in Lithuania, periodically flying patrol sorties along the Baltic coast. A supersonic fighter jet needs 15 to 20 minutes to get from the Baltic Sea to, say, Russia's Smolensk. It would be extremely careless of the Russian top brass to ignore this threat to the country's security and fail to take measures against a possible nuclear strike. The Iskander-M is only one segment of the defensive system the Russian army maintains to protect its citizens.
That system also includes the Voronezh-DM early warning radar station, also located in Kaliningrad Region. The radar monitors the Atlantic, which is patrolled by U.S. and British nuclear-capable submarines. Another reason why Russia is being forced to take security measures is because the U.S. is persistent in its attempts to introduce components of its ABM system in Europe. This would threaten the strategic missiles located in European Russia, which comprise one half of the Russian nuclear missile arsenal.
Washington originally planned to build an anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic and put interceptor missiles in Poland. Then the U.S. adopted a stepwise ABM deployment program; in the first phase of the plan, which is already on, an ABM base with SM-3 1B interceptors is being built near the Romanian town of Deveselu. A similar base should be built in Poland, not far from the border with Kaliningrad Region. Must Russia react to these plans, which Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has described as confrontational? Any military man will tell you it must.
Some Russian citizens, apparently under the spell of the U.S. rhetoric, argue that the American ABM plans are not threatening Russia in any way, and are nothing but a measure to protect Europe and the United States against such unfriendly and unpredictable regimes as Iran and North Korea. But Washington appears to have finally persuaded Tehran to stand down its nuclear ambitions.
This prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to assume that Washington might now revise its European ABM plans. No such luck: both President Barack Obama, the U.S. Secretary of Defence and lower-rank U.S. officials keep insisting that Iran still cannot be trusted. Besides, they say, the ABM system is not aimed against any country in particular, but serves as a potential instrument of countering possible threats from all sides.
What is Russia left to do? Washington keeps complaining about potential threats, but are there no threats to Moscow? According to Shoygu, “The European ABM program is well under way, and our concerns are being disregarded. We see no predictability in the U.S. and NATO ABM plans.” The result is that Iskander-M theatre missiles are being deployed in Kaliningrad Region.
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