BACK TO THE FUTURE: Russia and the U.S. are involved in a stand-off that could see new missiles arrive in Kaliningrad
Russia has upped the ante in the ongoing spat with the U.S. overplans to base an American missile system in Europe.
In a move that will have direct ramifications for the Balticregion, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov threatened todeploy warheads in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Seabetween Poland and Lithuania.
Citing concerns that U.S. Missiles would pose a direct threatto Russia despite assurances from Washington that they wouldbe purely defensive, Ivanov gave a clear indication that his countrywould be prepared to embark on a new arms race: "Ifour proposals are not accepted an asymmetrical and effective responsehas been found," he said July 4.
As First Deputy Prime Minister, Ivanov hasoverall responsibility for Russia's defense. A close ally of PresidentVladimir Putin, it is unthinkable that his comments did not have thedirect approval of the Kremlin. Indeed Ivanov is thought to be amongthe front runners in the race to succeed Putin, if and when heeventually relinquishes direct power.
It may also be no coincidence that the Russian threat to boost itsmilitary presence in the Baltic came on the same day that LithuanianPresident Valdas Adamkus signed a bill confirming construction ofa new pan-Baltic nuclear power plant on his country's territory.Lithuania has been joined by Latvia, Estonia and Poland in theproject but rejected Russian demands that it should be allowed to tender for the job of building the plant.
Combined with the sabre-rattling of the Kaliningrad threat, Ivanovoffered a possible solution, inviting the U.S. to partner Russia inusing facilities in southern Russia and Azerbaijan.
"After this, you will forget about the term 'ColdWar'. It will simply disappear," he proffered.
U.S. President George W. Bush has described similarproposals in the past as "innovative" but has yet to put thebrakes on plans for bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Chairman of the LithuanianParliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Justinas Karosas was amongthe first to comment on the threat to station missiles just over the border.
"There is no other option but to comment on such things in thenegative. We favor demilitarization of the Kaliningrad enclave,"Karosas told reporters on Wednesday.
"This is a militaristic gesture on Russia's part," hecontinued, "It is not to be tolerated as Russia does not act inline with the established principles of peaceful coexistence."
In a July 5 radio interview, Lithuanian prime minister GediminasKirkilas declared his intention to make an official protest to Russiaover the matter.
Moves such as Ivanov's are only the latest in a long line of provocations to cause jitters throughout the Baltic region. Russian troops have been carrying out extensive war games around the town of Pskov which reportedly included rehearsals of a Baltic invasion and populist Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky recently endorsed the forcible re-occupation of the Baltic states.