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Sunday 18.02.2018 | Name days: Kintija, Kora
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Iskander missile deployment in Kaliningrad brings up urgency of anti-ballistic system again

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Russian servicemen equip an Iskander tactical missile system at the Army-2015 international military-technical forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2015

Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Russia deployed this week nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in the exclave of Kaliningrad, tucked in between Poland and Lithuania, and intends to keep them there permanently. It was Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė and Raimundas Karoblis, the Defence minister, who broke the news which means imminent menace not only to Lithuania but to the entire Baltic region and, experts say, Scandinavia, too. The reaction of the other echelons of Lithuanian power has been quite lukewarm, which was not left unnoticed by Arvydas Anušauskas, a Lithuanian parliamentarian and a member of the Seimas’ Committee of National Security and Defence.

«Indeed, the Seimas could perhaps say more following the announcement on the missile deployment. There were only a couple of statements by several members of the Parliament. However, I am sure that, outside the legislature, closed-door meetings of the state’s key figures have taken place to assess the new security situation,» Anušauskas told BNN.

In her brief statement, President Dalia Grybauskaitė called the instalment of Iskander missiles a «threat» not just to Lithuania, but also to a half of European countries.

Meanwhile, the Defence minister accentuated that, until now, 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.»

Lithuania’s intelligence agencies have said that a placement of Iskander systems in Kaliningrad is potentially more dangerous for Lithuania due to its capacity to hinder NATO actions in the region. Lithuanian intelligence believes however that the missile complex is not needed for targets in Lithuania’s territory, as, theoretically, they could be taken down by the existing other Russian military capacities.

Now, however, with the missile system in proximity, it is crucial to update the alliance‘s contingency plans for the Baltics and facilitate the movement of military troops in the region and find ways of ensuring air defence over the Baltic Sea and the region’s countries, experts agree unanimously.

«NATO should start preparations for neutralisation of the capacities in the Russian region aimed at restricting the arrival of NATO Allies in the Baltic states in case of a conflict,» Karoblis stated.

Earlier this year, Grybauskaitė referred to the US Nuclear Posture Review released in January. 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.

The Lithuanian officials’ statements about the deployment of Iskander missiles in neighbourhood come as Lithuania marked this week 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 other Baltic States also felt uneasy in the wake of the report on the missile stationing so close to their borders.

Kaspars Galkins, a spokesman for the Latvian Defence ministry, said that Latvia together with its NATO allies «have to keep investing in modern missile defence.»

He noted that such weapons are considered an «attack capability», which do not promote security and good neighbourly relations in the region.

The initial NATO reaction to the fact of Iskander deployment in Kaliningrad has been quite cautious so far.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller, on a visit to Lithuania on Monday, February 5, said that the organization had to be «ascertained» whether the deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad is permanent.

«It’s very, very important to consider it very carefully. It is a very serious matter,» she said.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on Monday, February 5, that Russia has a «sovereign» right to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad Oblast, and «no one should be worried about it.»

«Russia has never threatened anyone, nor is it doing so now,» he underscored.

Although there are talks that the Baltics have certain missile defence elements installed now, however, they are not able to withstand the risks stemming from the Iskander system deployment in Kaliningrad.

«The Redzikowo AEGIS Ashore ballistic missile defence site in Poland should be operational this year and the US nuclear posture and plans to deal with Russia’s offensive capabilities are clear signals that deterrence is on top of the list for the priorities by the United States,» Vaidas Saldžiūnas, a renown Lithuanian defence analyst, told BNN.

He, however, admitted that the current Baltic defence capacities and those by the NATO do not allow to «100 per cent» defend infrastructure of the fixed Baltic sites, like the airports, ammunition depos, military bases and objects of the kind.

Asked whether the US and the NATO should have by now stationed an anti-ballistic missile system in the Baltics, Saldžiūnas reasoned that even with such a system on the ground, its ability to take down a launched Iskander missile could be «a difficult task.»

«More productive is to threaten Iskanders, so they are not launched. This is in the first place,» the expert emphasised.

It is clear, however, that in the next NATO Summit to be held on July 11-12, 2018, in Brussels, Belgium, the issue of the Iskander missile deployment in Kaliningrad will be talked up to the core.

«I have no doubts that Lithuania along the other Baltic States will arrive at the NATO summit with request to address the situation. I reckon that one way of the solution would be deployment of a missile defence system in the region. I mean in such a way that the Iskander threat is minimised,» Anušauskas told BNN.

In another development this week, Lithuania’s Defence ministry rolled outto the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee a draft plan on universal conscription.

According to it, universal conscription of men and women, who had just graduated high schools, to Lithuania’s Armed Forces would require about 1.5 billion euros.

The earliest date of universal conscription could be 2024, if it is granted 105 million euros every year. Young men and women could be recruited from 2026, given that the preparations are earmarked 280 million euros every year.

However, a high-ranked source in the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence told BNN that there are «grave apprehensions» that the financial burden of universal conscription might be «too big» to Lithuania, which has approved an annual state budget of 9 billion euros for the year.

«Besides, with the significant increase in conscript numbers and with no respective facilities to accommodate and train them, the quality of military apprenticeship can suffer. Also we need to consider  the foreseen length of conscription, for nine months. I reckon it is just too a short time to train conscripts properly,» the senior ministry officer said.

Partial conscription was reintroduced in Lithuania in 2015 in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The plan for this year is to draft 3,800 conscripts, which is a rise by 300 young people from 2017.

This year, Lithuania, for the first time, has earmarked2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) for defence, which totals at 873 million euros.

Ref: 020/111.111.111.5618


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