No Russian Missiles in Kaliningrad?
Independent Russian news agency Interfax today claimed that Russia are suspending plans to place missiles in Kaliningrad, in what would have been the first deployment of offensive missiles inside Europe since the end of the Cold War. While the news has not yet received official confirmation, Interfax cited sources from the Russian General Staff in Moscow to support their scoop.
If true, the move undoubtedly comes in response to recent hints from Washington suggesting that the Obama administration may be reconsidering plans to establish a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe. The controversial plan, developed by the Bush administration, would have involved the installation of ten interceptor missiles at a military base in Poland and construction of a radar station in the Czech Republic. Although the Bush administration had claimed that the purpose of the shield was to counter the long-range threat from ‘rogue states’ such as Iran and North Korea, there was strong Russian opposition to the plans, who perceived the system was a threat to their own security. Despite some serious Russian sabre rattling, the US went ahead and signed preliminary deals with both the Czech and Polish governments last year, stating their aim to ensure a fully operational defence shield was in place by 2013. This caused a dramatic cooling in both Russian-US and Russian-Polish relations, and in response to the US deal, Russian President Dimitri Medvedev announced in November 2008 that Russia would place their own missiles in their Baltic enclave Kaliningrad, in order to ‘neutralise the threat from the US’, sparking fears of a new cold war.
The Obama administration are now said to be reviewing this policy however, and a spokesman recently stated that there was ‘no commitment’ to the immediate deployment of the missile defence system in East Europe. Obama and Medvedev spoke on the telephone on Monday (26 January) and apparently discussed ‘cooperation and coordination in dealing with common challenges’. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also expressed that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the potential for improved US-Russian relations. While it’s unlikely that Russia and America will ever be the best of friends, assuming the Russian decision to hang-fire on the installation of missiles in Kalingrad is confirmed, it is, as US ambassador to NATO Kurt Volkner stated earlier today ‘a very positive step forwards’.
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