'PUTIN MOVES HIS MISSILES IN NEW THREAT TO EUROPE'

​Russia accuses NATO of military expansion

By Tom Parfitt, Catherine Philp, Bruno Waterfield, Michael Savage

The Times – 22 November 2016

Russia is deploying short-range ballistic missiles to its Western European enclave, it emerged yesterday as President Putin threatened “counter-measures” against NATO expansion. A senior Russian MP said that Moscow would permanently station the nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, a region between the NATO states of Poland and Lithuania, in retaliation for a military build-up by the alliance in Eastern Europe.

John Kirby, spokesman for the US State Department, said that the deployment of the missiles was “destabilising to European security”. He added:

“We call on Russia to refrain from words or deeds that are inconsistent with the goal of promoting security and stability.”

A Pentagon official said:

“Such a deployment … would mark an unfortunate and destabilising action. NATO’s missile defence system, for which this action by Russia is purportedly a response, is not oriented toward Russia. Like all other US and NATO deployments in Eastern Europe, this system is purely defensive and intended to enhance collective security.”

In an interview with the film-maker Oliver Stone, broadcast in Russia last night, Mr Putin said that Moscow felt threatened by NATO expansion and would try to counter it.

“Why are we reacting to NATO expansion so emotionally? We are concerned by NATO’s decision-making,”

he said.

“We must take counter-measures, that is, strike with our missile systems the targets that in our opinion begin to threaten us.”

The developments came less than two weeks after Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election prompted concerns over the solidity of the alliance, which he has denounced as obsolete and expensive. Experts said that Russia’s actions represented a challenge to Mr Trump, whose reaction could be hard to predict.

“It is a dangerous moment,”

Igor Sutyagin, a Russia expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said.

Nuclear-capable Iskander missiles were deployed to Kaliningrad last month, but yesterday Viktor Ozerov, head of the Defence Committee in Russia’s upper house of Parliament, said that they would stay there permanently. He added that Iskander and S-400 missiles were in the enclave because of the danger posed by the US defence shield, which went operational in Romania in May. Another part of the shield is being prepared in Poland.

Russian fears that those sites could be converted into strike positions for US cruise missiles “are being confirmed”, Mr Ozerov said.

“We are facing two main tasks: to penetrate air defences and ensure protection from possible strikes,”

he said.

“As response measures against this kind of threat, we will be obliged to strengthen our aerospace defence in that direction.”

NATO countries say that the defence shield is required to protect the US from Iran, and allege that Moscow is using it as an excuse for escalation. Russia says that it is a threat, and President Putin promised in May that Romania would find out

“what it means to be in the cross-hairs”.

Senior British MPs said that the Russian decision to move missiles was part of a “tit-for-tat” approach. Julian Lewis, Conservative Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said that the West should not overreact.

“Both NATO and Russia have got more than enough nuclear weapons to neutralise any perceived nuclear threat from each other,”

he said.

“This move has more to do with diplomatic retaliation than a serious increase in the threat to NATO. This sort of behaviour was par for the course in the old Cold War years.”

At a NATO meeting in Istanbul yesterday, Jens Stoltenberg, head of the alliance, said that

“everything NATO does is defensive [and] proportionate”.

He blamed Russia’s aggression in Ukraine for the deployment of additional troops to Eastern Europe.

“NATO’s aim is to prevent a conflict, not to provoke a conflict,”

he said.

It also emerged yesterday that Turkey was in talks to buy an air-defence system from Russia in a deal that would provoke resistance from the country’s NATO allies. In a sign of the warming of relations between Moscow and Ankara, an intergovernmental commission is to meet by the end of the year to discuss a purchase of the S-400 system. Relations between the two countries soured in November last year when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter on the Syria-Turkey border. Mr Putin and President Erdogan of Turkey mended ties in June after the latter apologised. The countries have since promised to pursue defence co-operation; Turkey’s ties with the West have worsened since Ankara’s claims that it aided a coup attempt in Turkey in July.

Military sources in the Russian capital confirmed that talks were being held. Fikri Isik, Turkey’s Defence Minister said on Friday that it was

“holding negotiations on the S-400 not only with Russia but also with other countries having similar systems. Russia’s position on the matter is currently positive”.

Nick de Larrinaga, Europe editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, said:

“NATO has an integrated air-defence command network and they’re worried that if you plug in a modern Russian or Chinese system then that would essentially give the Russian or Chinese governments a back door into that network.”