Lithuania and Poland expressed concern Monday after Russia said it had deployed nuclear capable Iskander missiles in a territory that borders the two NATO countries.
Russia's Defense Ministry gave an oblique response Monday to a report in the German daily Bild claiming that Russia has sent the short-range missiles to its westernmost Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea. The ministry said the missiles had been positioned in an unspecified location in western Russia, and it argued that the deployment doesn't contradict any international treaties.
“I am worried about signals that Russia is about to modernize missile systems it has deployed in Kaliningrad," Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told reporters. "Further militarization of this region, bordering the Baltic states and NATO, creates further anxiety, and we will be watching situation there closely."
The Polish Foreign Ministry said that while it did not have any official information from Russia, it was concerned about the reports. "Deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region would be against the spirit of positive cooperation between Poland and Russia," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski.
While Russia's Defense Ministry was coy about the exact location of the missiles, the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia, which reportedly has close links to Russian security agencies, said the missiles had been deployed more than a year ago, The Associated Press reported.
Asked about the reported missile deployment, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington has "shared with Russia the concerns that countries in the neighborhood have ... regarding Russia's deployment of the Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad."
"We've urged Moscow to take no steps to destabilize the region," she said. "We've made that point with them."
Reports about the Iskander deployment to Kaliningrad had been pre-signaled.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have talked about such a move for years, casting it as a necessary counterbalance to the development of the U.S.-led NATO missile defense for Europe. Moscow sees the missile shield as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
While the deployment of the Iskander missiles would have little impact on the military balance between Russia and NATO, it could further damage Russia's ties with the U.S. and Western Europe. Relations are already strained by ongoing concerns relating to civil unrest in Ukraine.
There have been daily protests in Kiev since Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich spurned a trade and investment deal with the European Union last month in a move widely seen as a pro-Moscow turn.
Demonstrators plan a new show of force in Ukraine's capital on Tuesday, two days after 200,000 people opposed to the president’s rule braved snow and freezing temperature in Kiev Sunday.
Tuesday’s protests would come the same day that Yanukovich is scheduled to meet with Putin at the Kremlin – where he could secure loans that could help fend off economic crisis in the country.
"The situation in Ukraine is now such that without loans, from one side or another, they will simply fail to maintain economic stability," Andrei Belousov, an economic adviser to Putin, told Interfax news agency. "I do not rule out that, if there is a request, a credit could be provided."
Al Jazeera and wire services