On last day 7, Friday, the Iskandr-M missile system arrived on Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia´s territory sandwiched between Poland and Lethonia on the Baltic Sea cost. The first information came from Estonian government and was taken to the public on the same day by ERR news portal. Soon the information spread and caused reaction in Europe, mainly in Poland and the Baltic countries.
The transport of Iskander-Ms by a civil vessel and the installation in an region sorrounded by European Union and NATO member countries suggest, within the context of a rapid deterioration in relationship between Russia and the West since the war in Ukraine, that this military movement aims to destabilize the Eastern Europe security. So says the expert quoted in Observer:
There’s a reason that the Kremlin promised to not ship this missile system to Kaliningrad back in 2009, in exchange for President Obama’s scuppering of missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. Activating an Iskander-M unit in Kaliningrad, west of the Baltic republics, is rightly seen as destabilizing by NATO’s whole eastern flank which, despite security promises by the White House, remains vulnerable to Russian attack. For Warsaw and several other NATO capitals, this move resembles a Baltic version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The reference to 2009 is concern the Obama administration´s decision, in September, to eliminate the European BMD (European Ballistic Missile Defense), created by the George W, Bush government and known as anti-missile shield, and replaces it with the PAA (Progressive Adaptative Aproach), a new system that would act responsively and, at least officialy, would be aimed against Iran engaged in developing nuclear weapons. Then Russian president Dmitri Medvedev called the move "a responsable move" and said he was willing to talk. So many Russian as American analysts considered the Obama´s attitude a victory of Russian diplomacy. His critics accused him of giving in to pressure without getting anything in return, while his supporters said Moscow didn´t want a fight immediately and it was up to Americans wait and watch what would be the new Russian attitudes.
Judging by Schindler´s criticism, Moscow took advantage of the Obama government´s mistake to allocate Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad. In the current situation, an American and/or NATO reaction, as a new anti-missile shield, for example, could be dangerous.
Neighbouring countries to Kaliningrad reacted to the missiles deployment with concern and complaints: Poland considered the Russian atitude highly troubling, the Estonian government, through it´s Minister of Defence, said Russia plans to dominante the Baltic Sea, and Lithuania promised a protest to Moscow.
The transport of the missiles to Kaliningrad has relationship to two issues that are also interrelated.
The firts is the Eastern European security. In may this year was ready an anti-missile shield in Bulgaria, and in 2018 will be implemented the same shield in Poland. But both are sponsored by the US. In June a report of the British newspaper Express quoted Kremlin own sources that said Russia would install Iskander-Ms in Kaliningrad permanently. This plan was contemplated since at least 2008, but the expectation was that missiles were installed not before 2018 (another sources claim the plan was only for 2019). Experts said that the creation of the anti-missile shield in Romania would be what Moscow needed to justify it´s atitude, which would be realized before expected this October 7th. The sponsorship of these shields by the Americans was received by Russia as a provocation.
In the end of June 2016 a deep change took place in Kaliningrad´s military hierarchy by the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergey Shoygu. More than fifty high ranking men and Baltic Fleet members were dismissed, according to the ministry for breaking the rules stablished by the organization. The Minister justified the drastic action claiming the "unstable political and military situation" on the Western borders of Russia. It´s a clear reference to the deterioration of the relations between Moscow and the West since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine.
Kaliningrad is part of a sudden deterioration of the Russia-EUA/Europe relations, and this situation suggests that the placement of the Iskander-M missiles in the province doesn´t be only for military drills, but also for permanent installation. Despite the deeply worrying signs (could still add the sorrounding of Ukraine in August), the situation doesn´t necessarily indicates a global war in short term. With the approach of the US elections, the Kremlin stepped on the gas to make pressure in results and it´s playing all the cards to react to what it´s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, called "russophobic hysteria" of the West.
I´ll be back to the general framework described in the end of this text at an opportune time. The situation in worrying, and Kaliningrad is only a chapter of a much broader and deeper crisis.
* Published in Portuguese on October 16th 2016.