Russia Moves Nuclear Warheads Near Border with NATO Allies

Russian Topol long-range missiles at Yushkovo, 50km from Moscow, March 18, 2008.

From Adam Entous and Jonathan Weisman, the Wall Street Journal:  The U.S. believes Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads to facilities near North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies as recently as this spring , U.S. officials say, adding to questions in Congress about Russian compliance with long-standing pledges ahead of a possible vote on a new arms-control treaty.

U.S. officials say the movement of warheads to facilities bordering NATO allies appeared to run counter to pledges made by Moscow starting in 1991 to pull tactical nuclear weapons back from frontier posts and to reduce their numbers. The U.S. has long voiced concerns about Russia’s lack of transparency when it comes to its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, believed to be many times the number possessed by the U.S.

Russia’s movement of the ground-based tactical weapons appeared to coincide with the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile-defense installations in countries bordering Russia. Moscow has long considered the U.S. missile defense buildup in Europe a challenge to Russian power, underlining deep-seated mistrust between U.S. and Russian armed forces despite improved relations between political leaders.

The Kremlin had no immediate comment. …

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis said he raised concerns about the weapons this month with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior defense officials in Washington.

"Being a NATO member, of course, someone could say, ‘Don’t worry.’ But when you’re living in the neighborhood, you should always be more cautious," Mr. Azubalis said. He added that American officials "expressed worry but they also don’t know too much" about where the weapons are and the conditions under which they are kept.

Classified U.S. intelligence about Russia’s movement of tactical nuclear weapons to the facilities has been shared with congressional committees. …

Two senior Obama administration officials didn’t deny the tactical warhead issue has arisen in private discussions with lawmakers, but said the 1991 pledges, known as the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, weren’t legally binding on either side and were difficult to verify. …

According to the U.S. assessment, Russia has expanded tactical nuclear deployments near NATO allies several times in recent years. An example is Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. A State Department cable from April 2009 said Russia had warned it would take countermeasures, including putting "missiles" in Kaliningrad, in response to expanded U.S. missile defenses in Europe.

U.S. officials believe the most recent movements of Russian tactical nuclear weapons took place in late spring. In late May, a U.S. Patriot missile battery was deployed in northern Poland, close to Kaliningrad, sparking public protests from Moscow.

Some officials said the movements are a concern but sought to play down the threat. Russian nuclear warheads are stored separately from their launching systems, U.S. officials say.  (photo: AFP)

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