In what is being seen as a re-commitment to a Cold War-like military footing, reports indicate that Russia not only has placed nuclear missiles close to its border with Lithuania and Poland, but Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin also signed off on a division of nuclear bombers to fly patrols near American airspace. The military moves, which have increased fears among NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) countries of an imminent invasion (and a possible run-up to World War 3), come as tensions mount between the United States and Russia over several key issues, including the continued economic sanctions being levied against Russia and the recent break-off of negotiations concerning the Syrian civil war.
Newsweek reported earlier this week that Russia transported several Iskander-M nuclear ballistic missiles into the Kaliningrad enclave that borders Poland and Lithuania. The Russian Defence Ministry claimed that the move was simply part of the ongoing drills, but a U.S. intelligence official said Friday that the Iskander-Ms being moved so close to the Baltic Sea could actually be Russia showing its displeasure with NATO.
Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement that this was not the first time the ballistic missiles had been deployed to Kaliningrad. He added that the Iskander-Ms were being used in training exercises and that the military had purposely exposed a missile so that American spy satellites could detect it.
Lithuania, which borders Kaliningrad, has found the missile deployment worrisome and will protest the action to Moscow.
Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said during a news briefing in Vilnius that the missiles only increased tensions in the Baltic region and "also possibly violates international treaties which limit deployment of ballistic missiles of range of over 500 kilometers."
Certain models of the Iskander-M can carry a payload 700 km (450 miles). This effectively puts several eastern European capitals -- including Berlin -- in range.
Linkevicius added, "This is a usual Russian tactic: escalate tensions, create a discord and then expect concessions elsewhere. I would like to hope that this will not work this time."
The foreign minister could be correct in his assessment, given that both the United States (and, by extension, NATO) and Russia have increased tensions throughout eastern Europe of late with increased troop movement, drills and exercises, and missile deployments. To add to the strained relations, the recent round of bombing mistakes and mutual finger-pointing in the Syrian civil war have raised concerns as well. And ceasefire talks between Syria's government (backed by Russia) and the Syrian rebels (supported by the U.S.) fell through last week.
Subsequent to the negotiations ending, President Putin called for Russia to withdraw from a six-year-old plutonium disposal treaty that was designed for non-proliferation and deescalation of nuclear weapons arsenals. As reported by the Inquisitr, the legislation read that Russia would remain treaty-bound if the U.S. would withdraw its troops from NATO countries in eastern Europe, drop the economic sanctions against Russia, and agree to repay Moscow the monies it had lost due to said sanctions.
Lithuania is not alone in its fears of Russia's military might pushing against its borders. The Daily Star reported that neighboring Latvia was considering conscription to increase its military strength. Kaspars Galkins, Latvia's defense minister, said, "Due to increased activity of the Russian military near the Latvian borders Latvia's national armed forces were given notice, and we increased ground, sea and air surveillance."
Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland are all signatories of NATO's mutual defense treaty. If attacked, the sister signatories, which includes the U.S. and 24 other nations, are pledged to come to the aid of the beleaguered party or parties.
The placement of nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad was followed by the creation of a new division of nuclear bombers to patrol airspace that has not been patrolled since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. "The formation of the division is almost complete now," a Defence Ministry official said, according to the Daily Star. "It consists of several squadrons of long-distance bombers deployed in the Eastern and Central military districts."
The nuclear bomber announcement came on the heels of the sensationalized civil defense drills that incorporated 40 million Russians. Media outlets questioned whether or not the exercises were practice for World War 3, according to the Inquisitr. To be fair, though, the drills are an annual event in Russia.
But should Poland, the Baltic States, and NATO be overly concerned with Russia's continued saber rattling? Possibly. As the Inquisitr has reported, think tanks like the Atlantic Council, which is located in Washington, have warned that Russia very well could invade the Baltic States with "no warning time," using military exercises as a ruse to cover troop movements up until the invasion is underway. And retired NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove warned the organization that it was not prepared for a Russian military invasion, that Russia, with its air and naval superiority, could easily cut off all of Europe from its Western Hemisphere allies.
So has Russia been attempting to escalate tensions purposely to gain certain economic and/or diplomatic concessions? Is this some new form of nuclear brinkmanship, a Cold War 2.0 between Russia and the U.S.? The more important question might be: Would Putin actually risk involving Russia in even a limited confrontation with NATO and thus risk plunging the planet into World War 3?
[Featured Image by Lipskiy/Shutterstock]