Russia Transfers Nuclear Arms to Baltics

Article excerpt

Russia is moving tactical nuclear weapons into a military base in Eastern Europe for the first time since the Cold War ended in an apparent effort to step up military pressure on the expanded NATO alliance, The Washington Times has learned.

The transfers of battlefield nuclear weapons to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad followed threats several years ago to position such weapons outside of Russia's territory in response to expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Kaliningrad is a Baltic Sea port located between Poland and Lithuania, and a major military base for Russian ground and naval forces, including the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet.

The movement of the new battlefield nuclear arms was detected in June and is a sign Moscow is following through on threats to respond to NATO expansion with the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with reports of the activity.

The precise type of new tactical weapons could not be learned. Some defense officials said they are probably for use on a new short-range missile known as the Toka. A Toka was test-fired on April 18 in Kaliningrad. It has a range of about 44 miles.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon declined to comment on intelligence reports of the movement of tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad.

However, Mr. Bacon said in an interview: "If the Russians have placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, it would violate their pledge that they were removing nuclear weapons from the Baltics, and that the Baltics should be nuclear-free."

Russia and the United States announced in 1991 and 1992 a non-binding agreement to reduce arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons.

In 1991, President George Bush ordered the military to unilaterally cut U.S. arsenals of tactical nuclear arms. Weapons were removed from ships and from many overseas bases.

The Soviet and Russian governments announced in 1991 and 1992, respectively, that all tactical nuclear weapons were removed from Eastern Europe to more secure areas in Russia. It was not clear whether that included nuclear weapons based in Kaliningrad.

Some U.S. tactical nuclear arms remain in Europe and Moscow has continued to demand their withdrawal in arms talks with U.S. officials.

Moscow also has refused to discuss the status and deployment of its tactical nuclear weapons with the United States, despite the Clinton administration's provision of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Russia to help eliminate its nuclear arms or protect them against theft, according to defense officials.

Clinton administration arms-control officials suggested the tactical nuclear arms in Kaliningrad may be part of an attempt by Moscow to test the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush.

Cuts in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear arsenals are supposed to be discussed in new U.S.-Russian negotiations on a START III arms treaty.

The forward deployment of new tactical nuclear arms is viewed by many defense officials as a worrisome sign Moscow is beefing up defenses against NATO. …