Mikhail Barabanov, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), which advises the Russian Defence Ministry, said it now looked like the Kremlin would deploy them there permanently by 2019.
By all accounts, the deployment of the Iskanders in Kaliningrad Region is now inevitable. The missile brigade currently stationed there was using older shorter-range Tochka-U missiles slated for replacement.
Location of Deployment
The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. It’s two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.
Russia has twice deployed Iskanders to Kaliningrad on exercises only to reportedly later withdraw them.
After the United States switched on the Romanian part of the shield, President Vladimir Putin warned Romania and Poland could find themselves targeted by Russian missiles.
There’s a very high chance Iskanders will be deployed in Kaliningrad.
Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trend Studies in Moscow, told Reuters.
But the Iskanders are our ace card in the standoff over missile defense and NATO’s activity around our borders. We need to use it cleverly. There’s a big game going on and we don’t want to throw it away at the start. We’ll play it when Russia needs it most politically.
A marked reduction in East-West tensions might prompt Russia to think twice about the deployment, he said.
Pifer, the former U.S. ambassador, said it was “a matter of time” before the Iskanders showed up in Kaliningrad regardless.
Kaliningrad is worrisome, he said. if you have that range of missile there you cover not only all the Baltics but probably about two thirds of Poland.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said Moscow reserves the right to deploy the Iskanders anywhere in Russia and other senior Russian military officials have said Kaliningrad will get the Iskanders in the next few years as part of a routine nationwide upgrade.
But in the context of many similar threats that have not come to pass, Western experts are unsure if that is a bluff.
Russian experts say it isn’t.
I think the Kremlin will officially drag out the decision (on the Kaliningrad Iskanders) until 2018 or 2019 when the new Polish element of the (U.S.) missile shield will be activated and when the re-arming of other missile brigades throughout Russia with Iskanders is due to finish, said CAST’s Barabanov.
Some NATO officials privately believe Iskanders may already be in Kaliningrad; others reject that, saying they would have shown up on satellite imagery.
Barabanov said the Iskanders, once deployed to Kaliningrad, would not be armed with nuclear warheads, which are stored in other parts of Russia, but could later be if necessary.
Deploying nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad would be a separate and serious phase of escalation, he said. Konovalov said arming the missiles with nuclear warheads would be a return to a full-scale Cold War, something he said nobody wanted.
Read More: Reuters
Featured Image – Transporter erector launcher “Iskander-E” with two missiles and “Tochka-U” launcher – Via Wikimedia Creative Commons License