Russia Dismisses Report That It Moved Nuclear Weapons Near to NATO Borders

A senior Russian lawmaker dismissed a report that Russia has moved short-range tactical nuclear warheads closer to the borders of North Atlantic Treaty Organization member states.

“We have relations of trust now with our American partners and don’t take any steps without informing our partners and consulting with them,” Mikhail Margelov, head of the upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said today in a phone interview.

The Wall Street Journal today cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying that Russia moved the weapons as recently as this spring, coinciding with the deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland, near Russia’s Baltic exclave Kaliningrad.

The report may be aimed at torpedoing ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which has run into Republican opposition, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow- based defense analyst.

“Some people in the U.S. don’t want START to be ratified,” Felgenhauer said by phone. “The treaty has become a partisan issue.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report. “We don’t confirm or deny rumors,” said Yury Ivanov, a spokesman for the ministry in Moscow.

Russia has plans to modernize its tactical missile units, including those in Kaliningrad, with Iskander missiles, and “of course this is well-known to the Pentagon,” Felgenhauer said. The Iskander, first tested in 1995, has a range of as much as 400 kilometers (250 miles), according to Jane’s Information Group, which publishes information on global defense resources.

Russian Upgrade

President Dmitry Medvedev in November 2008 said he would deploy nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to “neutralize” a planned U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

This threat, along with Medvedev’s pledge to drop the deployment after the U.S. scrapped a proposed missile shield, are “meaningless” because Russia must eventually station Iskanders in Kaliningrad, Felgenhauer said.

President Barack Obama in September 2009 canceled former President George W. Bush’s proposed missile-shield in favor of a more flexible system that opened the door to revisit Russian proposals for a joint system.

Even so, the U.S. deployed Patriot missile batteries and their crews to northern Poland in May for what the U.S. Army described as a two-year training mission. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said at the time that the deployment wouldn’t improve security or help build relations in the region.

START Opposition

President Barack Obama said Nov. 20 the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April, was “fundamental” to U.S. security as he urged the Senate to ratify it.

Medvedev said the same day it would be “very unpleasant” if the Senate failed to approve the treaty, adding that he hoped legislators will demonstrate a “responsible” approach.

“The work of many people aimed at the general relaxation of tension, on resetting relations both between Russia and the United States, but also between Russia and NATO -- all of that would be in vain,” Medvedev told reporters at the NATO summit Nov. 20 in Lisbon.

Russia agreed at the summit to take part in a NATO missile- defense system, promising to expand cooperation between the former Cold War adversaries.

Ratification of the treaty stalled in the Senate after the Republican gains in the Nov. 2 elections, which will make it more difficult to reach the required two-thirds vote after the new lawmakers take office in January.

Obama has asked the Senate to ratify the treaty this year. Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican and one of his party’s leading voices on nuclear-weapons policy, said Sept. 16 that pressing business wouldn’t allow full consideration before year’s end of “the complex and unresolved issues related to START.”

The treaty limits each side’s strategic warheads to no more than 1,550, down from the 2,200 allowed previously, and sets a maximum of 800 land-, air- and sea-based launchers.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Willy Morris at wmorris@bloomberg.net

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