Russia drops Kaliningrad missile plans

29th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Russia will not pursue its plans if the US discontinues its controversial shield project, military official says.

Moscow -- Russia has shelved plans to install missiles on central Europe's doorstep after detecting a cooling by the Obama administration towards a controversial American shield project.

Russia had warned it would deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave wedged between NATO and EU members Poland and Lithuania, if Washington did not withdraw its controversial European missile shield plan.

"The realization of these plans has been suspended in connection with the fact that the new American administration is not speeding up its plans" for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, an official from Russia's military headquarters told the Interfax news agency. "Russia does not need to place Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if a US missile defense shield is not going to put fear into eastern Europe."

There was no confirmation from a military spokesman.

US ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, said that "if true, this would of course be a very positive step," according to his spokeswoman.

Moscow has repeatedly expressed fury with the plans of former American president George W. Bush to install the missile shield facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland, saying that the facilities would threaten Russian national security.

The United States said its plans to build a radar base in the Czech Republic and install interceptor missiles in Poland were not directed against Russia but aimed at countering what it described as a missile threat from "rogue states" such as Iran.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said late last year that the short-range Iskander missiles would be installed in Kaliningrad to "neutralize" the threat posed by the US missile defense system.

He chose to make that announcement on November 5, the very day when Obama was celebrating his stunning presidential election victory.

But independent military commentator Alexander Goltz noted that there had never been any serious steps to actually deploy the missiles.

"Russia has not suspended the deployment but it's thinking about a deployment," he said. "There was never any actual deployment, so it's a laughable statement."

Despite the confidence expressed by the Russian official that the United States is sidelining the missile defense plans, Obama has yet to make clear whether he will press ahead with the strategy.

Poland, which was alarmed by the Russian threat, reacted coolly to the official's comments. "It comes from an anonymous source and must first be confirmed," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that, in any case, there were doubts about the missile shield in the United States and about the accuracy of the Iskanders in Russia. "This is our signal to Washington that we are ready to find solutions, compromises and to enter into dialogue. A mutual suspension is possible -- in fact it is the easiest part of dialogue and detente with the United States.”

The RIA Novosti news agency quoted another high-ranking military official as saying that the idea of putting the missiles in Kaliningrad had never been anything more than a plan.

Russian officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that they have heard "positive signals" from Obama and hope that relations will recover from the post-Cold War lows reached during the last year of the Bush presidency.

But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned of raising hopes too high, saying that "the biggest disappointments are born out of big expectations."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Obama and Medvedev might have their first meeting on the sidelines of the G20 group of countries on April 2 in London.

"We think that our (Russia-US) relations will start anew," Lavrov told the upper house of parliament Wednesday, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported. "We hope that a new window of opportunity will be opened which will take our relations on to a trajectory of stable growth after a period of needless turbulence."

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica

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