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Russia Raises Stakes In Nuclear Weapon Showdown With U.S.

A redeployment of Russian missiles to Kaliningrad and the Western borders could be a response to reports of U.S. nuclear bombs arriving at a German air force base.

B-61 nuclear bombs on a bomb cart
B-61 nuclear bombs on a bomb cart
Pavel Tarasenko, Elena Chernenko and Ivan Safronov

MOSCOW — Russia is now considering the redeployment of missiles westward in reaction to U.S. plans to place new nuclear bombs at Germany's Büchel Air Base, Russian military sources tell Kommersant.

The source said Moscow may move its Iskander-M missile system to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania, and relocate its Tu-22M3 bombers to the western borders of Russia.

Moscow will undertake "a detailed analysis of the potential threats," before deciding to carry out the missile deployment, the source said.

This follows German TV reports on how the U.S. intends to place 20 of the latest B61-12 bombs at the German Air Force base of Büchel. They are more accurate than their predecessors and can be used on all types of aircraft carriers, from B52s to F15s.

Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has warned that such a move would increase tension in Europe, disrupt the continent's strategic balance and force Russia into taking "appropriate countermeasures."

More teeth

A German diplomatic source told Kommersant that the U.S. move was "not about placing new weapons, but extending and preserving the previous arsenals stationed in Germany under current NATO terms," adding that there was "absolutely no new target" for these weapons.

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Iskander M missiles test-launch — Photo: Times ASL

William Stephens, the spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Moscow, told Kommersant that the placement of American nuclear weapons on the territory of another NATO country "fully complies with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the weapons will remain under the full control of the U.S."

He said this had been discussed in depth at the end of the latest NPT talks which Moscow did not object to. Stevens added that according to the U.S. nuclear review of 2010, extending the life of existing weapons allows the country not to resort to developing new ones — and that Washington continues to maintain its commitments to nuclear disarmament, having reduced its stock of non-strategic nuclear weapons by more than 90% since 1991.

Russian authorities firmly disagree. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pointed out that in the 1990s, Russia reduced its non-strategic nuclear weapons four-fold while the Americans continued to modernize their nuclear arsenal and the European members of NATO did likewise with their aircraft and carriers.

Such a difference in the positions of Russia and the United States is not surprising, since nuclear weapons are not controlled by any international agreements (as opposed to strategic weapons). The two countries have no choice but to rely on the good faith of one another.

Duma defense committee head Vladimir Komoyedov said the Kremlin does not want the Pentagon's move to go unanswered. However, the deputy head of Foreign Affairs committee, Leonid Kalashnikov, told Kommersant that Russia should take a more drastic measure and pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

"If we continue to portray ourselves as toothless and only send out a couple of Iskanders, then nothing will change," Kalashnikov said, adding that the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) should be frozen. "Only if we take decisive steps will they come back to the negotiating table."

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