Lithuanian officials: Russia permanently stations Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad
Russia stationed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad region on Monday and intends to keep them there permanently, Lithuania's president and its defence minister said.
"Iskander missiles are being stationed in Kaliningrad for permanent presence as we speak (...). This is a threat not just to Lithuania, but also to a half of European countries," President Dalia Grybauskaitė told journalists in Rukla, a town in central Lithuania where NATO's multinational battalion is based.
Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis said Russia used to bring the missile complex to the region wedged between Lithuania and Poland for military drills only, however, "this time the situation is different – it is permanent stationing with all the necessary infrastructure in place."
"Iskander (missiles) were to be unloaded in the Kaliningrad port at 12 p.m.," Karoblis told BNS.
Lithuania's intelligence agencies have said that placement of Iskander systems in Kaliningrad would be potentially more dangerous for Lithuania due to its capacity to hinder Allied actions in the region, while the complex is not needed for targets in Lithuania's territory, as theoretically they could be taken down by the existing capacities.
Interfax reported that the Russian Baltic Fleet had declined to comment on Lithuanian officials' statements about the deployment of Iskander missile systems in the exclave.
"No comment," the fleet's press service told the news agency on Monday.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis says that the Iskander deployment news confirms the need for beefing up air defense.
"As to air defense, this is a long known and discussed issue. The deployment of the missile complex in the Kaliningrad region confirms once again that air defense issues must become a priority at this stage," Skvernelis told reporters on Monday.
"Obviously, Lithuania won't be able to decide on its own. This is a matter of common concern for NATO, our allies and Lithuania," he added.
Want more guarantees
In response to the Iskander deployment, and in the run-up to NATO's July summit, Lithuania is asking for more regional security guarantees from its allies.
According to Karoblis, in response to the permanent stationing of the missile systems in Kaliningrad, NATO should start preparations for neutralization of the capacities in the Russian region aimed at restricting the arrival of NATO Allies in the Baltic states in case of a conflict.
Grybauskaite said that the Alliance should make faster decisions, update its contingency plans for the Baltic states and facilitate the movement of military troops in the region, as well as find ways of ensuring air defense over the Baltic Sea and the region's countries.
"The first step, I think, was already made. The declaration by the US on nuclear deterrence has already been made, (...) but this question (of air defense) will be approached in NATO's summit this summer," she said.
The president was referring to the US Nuclear Posture Review released early this year. The document calls for expanding America's arsenal of low-yield nuclear weapons, which would be a more reliable deterrent against threats, particularly those from Russia.
NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, on a visit to Lithuania on Monday, said that it had to be ascertained whether the deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad would be permanent.
"It's very, very important to consider it very carefully. It is a very serious matter," she said.
The battalion's 1st anniversary
Officials' statements about the deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad come as Lithuania marks on Monday the first anniversary of NATO's enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in the country.
The 1,400-strong unit, which is stationed in Rukla, is led by Germany and also includes troops from Croatia, France, the Netherlands and Norway. Similar units, each led by a different country, were last year deployed to Latvia, Estonia and Poland as well.
The Lithuanian president noted that the battle groups included troops from 23 countries.
Grybauskaitė said that the deployment of the battalion in Lithuania showed that "our country will never be left alone" and Dutch Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld- Schouten, who was also present at the ceremony, said that it was a message of NATO unity to the international community.
Markus Gruebel, parliamentary state secretary to the German defense minister, said that the deployment showed that NATO took seriously its responsibility to ensure European security.
"We Europeans show that we contribute our fare share to this effort," he said.
NATO says that the deployment of the battalions in the three Baltic countries and Poland is a response to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine and its military buildup in the region.