VILNIUS - Baltic politicians have expressed disbelief at Moscow's suggestion on July 4 that it may deploy ballistic warheads in Kaliningrad if Washington goes ahead with its plan to create a limited anti-missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas tended to discount the statement, made by Russia's apparent presidential successor, Sergei Ivanov, saying it was part of the pre-election rhetoric in Russia.
"The tense political situation over the approaching presidential elections creates conditions in today's Russia for a dialog that could hardly be called the best, and raises the question of the kind of democracy being built in Russia," Kirkilas said.
Kirkilas added that he didn't think Kaliningrad residents would want the missiles in their backyard.
The Kaliningrad exclave contains one of the highest concentrations of conventional weaponry in all Europe.
In Latvia, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks dismissed the Kremlin's chest-pounding, saying that anyone who understands the basics of missile technology realizes that the Kremlin doesn't need to deploy warheads in the exclave to make an adequate response to Washington.
"Such statements don't make any sense and are directed at those who don't understand anything about anti-rocket systems," Pabriks was quoted as saying. The missiles, the minister added, would be just as effective from their current locations in western Russia.
Previously Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would consider reprogramming its missiles to target Europe if the anti-missile shield in Central Europe went ahead.
After his tete-a-tete with U.S. President George W. Bush, however, Putin seems to have left his assistants to do the threatening. On July 4, First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov said that if Washington accepted Moscow's plan for creating a missile shield in Azerbaijan, "Russia will not think it necessary to deploy new missile formations in the European part of the country, including Kaliningrad."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said any move by Russia to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad would contradict the spirit of cooperation between the European Union and Russia.
Vaitiekunas and Justinas Karosas, chairman of the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs urged restraint since there has been no action to back up the Kremlin's words.
Vasily Likhachyov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, said in Vilnius that the Kremlin's idea was a "reasonable and civilized response."
"Technically, Russia can tackle the problem of Czech radar and missiles in Poland in a very elementary way 's we have very advanced systems that both the Americans and NATO countries lack," he told Lithuanian journalists on July 5.
Russia's declarations about the response of the U.S. anti-missile defense plans for Central Europe "do not mean that tomorrow we start deploying missiles or rearrange the entire system in the exclave of Kaliningrad or Belarus," Likhachyov said.
"I should ask you very much not to stress these military dealings but the fact that we are capable of going for that dialogue with our friends in Europe," he added.
Likhachyov, who was in Vilnius to take part in an international conference on EU-Russian relations, said that "the American project upsets the established strategic balance in Europe and undermines the system of international legal agreements."
As he explained, Russia believes that current global security has been established and every country must take part to safeguard it. He did suggest, however, that Russia should offer constructive ideas and not just criticize the United States.
"It is vital that instead of adopting a clearly anti-U.S. position and issuing criticism in this situation we point to realistic ways out," Likhachyov said.