*This was originally published on ModelUN.news on February 10, 2018
-Matthew Mancini (’18)
On 5 February 2018, Russia deployed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. The city is on a Russian exclave that borders Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic sea. The head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee, Vladimir Shamanov, confirmed the missiles’ deployment.
The Russian Iskander missiles are capable of housing nuclear weapons and have a range of 310 mi (500 km). The missiles can reach all Baltic state nations (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) as well as Poland which are all NATO members.
The missiles were deployed in retaliation to NATO’s announcement of an Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD) being constructed in Poland. The defense system is set to be operational later this year. NATO claims that the defense system is to defend against Iranian missiles, but Russia does not see it that way.
The defense system could make Russian missiles ineffective during a military engagement. Thus, the new defense system has made relations between NATO and Russia more bitter than before.
Recently the relations between Russia and NATO nations have been negative due to controversy over Crimea. After the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, the Russian government annexed the Crimean peninsula. Annexation procedures began on 18 March 2014 when representatives from the Russian Federation and the Republic of Crimea (including Sevastopol) signed the The Treaty on Accession of the Republic of Crimea to Russia. The treaty laid out terms for the immediate admission of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol as federal subjects of Russia and part of the Russian Federation. On 21 March 2014, the treaty was ratified by the Federal Assembly.
The Crimean annexation effectively severed ties between Russia and Western Europe. Many Western European countries, as well as the United States, publicly condemned Russia. Some nations went as far as sanctioning the nation.
Considering recent events, the presence of the missiles have only worsened NATO-Russia. In particular, the missiles have caused concerns in the Lithuanian and Latvian governments.
After visiting NATO troops in the central Lithuanian town of Rukla, the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, told reporters that “the situation [had become] even more serious because Iskanders in Kaliningrad means dangers for half of European capitals.” The NATO Deputy Secretary General, Rose Gottemoeller, said that if the statement made by Grybauskaite was factual then this is “a very serious matter” for NATO members.
The foreign minister of Latvia, Edgars Rinkevics, was a staunch supporter of increasing NATO’s defense capabilities during their July 2017 summit. According to Rinkevics, the need to increase their defense “has been confirmed by the practical actions of Russia.”
In a statement by their Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, Russia stated that “the deployment of one weapon or another, the deployment of military units and so forth on Russian territory, is exclusively a sovereign issue for the Russian Federation.” In fact, the Russian officials have claimed that their deployment has made Europe a safer place. Peskov stated that “Russia has never threatened anyone and is not threatening anyone. Naturally, Russia has their sovereign right [to deploy weapons on its own territory]. It should hardly be cause for anyone to worry.”
On the other hand, according to an anonymous NATO official, “any deployment close to [the] border [with] missiles that can carry nuclear warheads does not help to lower tensions.”
The official also referred back to the December 2013 incident where missiles were deployed temporarily in Kaliningrad for military drills. In 2013, the military drills began as a retailliation to NATO’s decision to deploy anti-ballistic missiles at a Deveselu base in southern Romania which became operational in 2015.
Similar to the current situation, the Russians deployed missiles in Kaliningrad as a response to NATO’s decision to construct their anti-ballistic missiles in Poland. The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, which will be installed in Poland later this year, can intercept nuclear missiles that have been launched.
Due to the actions of Russia in the past, NATO nations were aware of the tensions that their defense system created and could predict the consequences of their new announcement.