Moscow Reportedly Moves Tactical Nuclear Arms to Baltics

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RUSSIA HAS REPORTEDLY moved tactical nuclear weapons to a military base in Kaliningrad, an action that would contravene its apparent pledge to keep the Baltic region nuclear-free and could violate its 1991 commitment not to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Russian officials have vehemently denied the allegations.

The move was first reported January 3 by The Washington Times, which cited unnamed intelligence sources and classified Defense Intelligence Agency reports, and stated that U.S. officials first became aware of the weapons transfers last June. Following initial press reports, U.S. news organizations reported senior U.S. officials as confirming that the Clinton administration believes Russia has moved tactical nuclear warheads during the past year to the isolated Russian region, which is located between Poland and Lithuania.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would not confirm or deny the reports when asked about them January 4, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher indicated January 3 that the department would be pursuing the issue with Moscow. The Washington Post cited senior U.S. officials as saying they had been closely following Russia's "handling of non-strategic nuclear weapons at stockpile sites" and were neither surprised nor alarmed by recent developments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the allegations "rubbish" when questioned by a reporter January 6. And, in interviews with Russian news agencies, Vladimir Yegorov, a former Baltic Fleet commander and the newly elected governor of Kaliningrad, derisively dismissed the allegations as a "dangerous joke" and bluntly denied that the fleet has nuclear weapons.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew nuclear submarines from the Baltic Sea in 1989 and said that Russia was "prepared to come to agreement with all the nuclear powers and the Baltic states on effective guarantees for the nuclear-free status of the Baltic Sea." No formal agreement was ever pursued, but both U.S. and Russian officials, including Baltic Fleet officers, maintain that Russia has committed to keeping nuclear weapons out of the region.

In late 1991, responding to initiatives announced by President George Bush, Gorbachev pledged to withdraw all naval tactical nuclear weapons from service to be either destroyed or placed in "central storage sites" and to destroy all nuclear warheads for artillery and tactical land-based missiles. These pledges were reaffirmed in 1992 by Russian President Boris Yeltsin following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The presence of any stockpiled weapons in Kaliningrad would violate Russia's apparent pledge to keep nuclear weapons out of the Baltics, and the more serious step of deploying tactical nuclear weapons would clearly violate its 1991 commitment. …