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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Really Wants Baltic Nukes?

There has been a spate of articles in the Western press in recent weeks concerning the alleged deployment of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia in the Kaliningrad enclave. These reports, which are primarily based on articles by Bill Gertz that appeared in The Washington Times in January and February, have been categorically denied by President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov (who, prior to becoming governor last November was the commander of the Baltic Fleet and so knows this subject thoroughly). Moreover, when I visited Kaliningrad earlier this month, I spoke to many local residents who expressed bewilderment over what they saw as a propaganda campaign launched against them.

The fact is that there have been no tactical nuclear weapons — neither sea-based nor air-based nor land-based — in the Kaliningrad region for some time now. Moreover, strategic nuclear weapons have never been deployed there.

On Sept. 27, 1990, as a member of a Soviet non-governmental organization called Peace for the Oceans, I observed the ceremonial withdrawal of the last Golf-class diesel submarine (with six ballistic nuclear missiles) from the Baltic Fleet. In 1991, in accordance with the Soviet-American Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the last intermediate-range missiles in the region were destroyed, including the medium-range R-12 missiles (range from 1,000 to 5,500 kilometers) that had been deployed at bases in Gusev and Sovetsk and the short-range ORT-23 (range from 500 to 1,000 kilometers) that had been stored near Ladushkin.

Furthermore, under an agreement between Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George Bush in the early 1990s, other types of tactical nuclear weapons that were not covered by the INF Treaty were removed from the region and placed in storage deep within Russian territory. Specialists familiar with Russian military doctrine understand that Russia relies primarily on its strategic nuclear forces (those with ranges greater than 5,500 kilometers), rather than on tactical devices, for its defense posture.

I think it is also important to recall that in the early 1980s, Moscow energetically advocated the creation of a Baltic nuclear-free zone. The Soviet Union even prepared a draft international treaty consisting of 17 articles that would have covered 10 countries in the region, as well as Kaliningrad and the Leningrad region — overall an area of more than 2.2 million square kilometers. Although this initiative was broadly supported by the Baltic countries, it was rejected by the global nuclear powers.

Now, however, may be an ideal time to reopen discussion of this initiative, which would create a legal barrier to the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of those countries that are likely to enter NATO in the near future. After all, a number of Pentagon representatives have expressed a positive attitude in recent weeks toward the idea of a nuclear-free Baltic region.

I also think it is important to point out a number of factual errors and dubious expressions in Gertz's articles. First, neither the Soviet Union nor Russia has ever had a missile called "Toka," about which Gertz writes. Second, there were no tactical weapons' tests conducted in the Kaliningrad region on April 18, 2000, as he asserts. There is not nor has there ever been a "military air base" near Kaliningrad that served as a storage place for tactical nuclear weapons.

It also strikes me as strange that American intelligence, according to Gertz's articles, cannot answer the simple question of whether the weapons supposedly deployed in the region are sea-based or land-based. Finally, there is absolutely no connection between tactical nuclear weapons and the C-300 anti-missile defense system about which Gertz writes. These are entirely different systems.

It was not for nothing, apparently, that the Clinton administration rejected the so-called "Kaliningrad problem." Just in January, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that Russia had not violated any of its INF obligations.

However, I believe that in view of the controversy, the question of foreign inspections of Russian territory on the Baltic should be addressed, as Polish Defense Minister Bronislav Komorovsky (among others) has urged. If the countries of the region are concerned about this issue, then a mechanism must be developed, even though military inspections are already regularly conducted under the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

Of course, Moscow must also be accorded the right to conduct analogous inspections not only on the territory of the seven NATO countries in the region, but also in countries that are not presently NATO members. Moscow, naturally, would be concerned to find that free-fall nuclear bombs or other weapons of this sort had been deployed at airbases near Marlboro in Poland or at Kecskemet in Hungary. As former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski told The Washington Times recently, "No one likes to be sitting next to nuclear weapons, stored or unstored."

In this connection, it is also worth noting that none of the new NATO-member countries has categorically forbidden the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on their territories. Most likely, such a deployment could be part of a coordinated NATO nuclear strategy.

There can be no doubt that conducting such mutual nuclear inspections in a spirit of good will and cooperation would help strengthen confidence measures in the nuclear arena, about which NATO Secretary-General George Robertson spoke recently. Such inspections could include, for instance, the installation of special electronic locks controlled by encoded "permissive action links" at bases where tactical nuclear weapons are stored. These locks would enable foreign countries to monitor any movements of such weapons beyond the territory of those bases. Of course, taking such a step presupposes a considerable degree of mutual trust and would require specific multilateral agreements to be implemented.

Even more ambitiously, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to reach a global ban on such weapons, analogous to the INF Treaty. This would settle the question once and for all.

In conclusion, though, I'd like to return to the conversations with Kaliningrad residents that I mentioned earlier. These people have no idea why the new U.S. administration has decided to use the press to stir up controversy over the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in the Baltic region.

I had a hard time even speculating on this question, although I think that a number of long-term and short-term considerations may be involved. Such actions, for instance, could be intended to hinder the development of economic and trade ties between Kaliningrad and the European Union (and between Kaliningrad and neighboring states). Moreover, they could be a way of preparing the ground for the eventual deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO member states. The "Kaliningrad problem" may also be used as an argument in the upcoming debates over NATO expansion.

In general, such steps and a number of other statements made by the Bush administration in recent weeks seem designed to provoke a guilt complex in Russia for all the problems of the region and to undermine the image of the country's leadership on the global stage. But it is hard to believe that such steps can be beneficial over the long term.

Vladimir Kozin is a senior counselor for the Russian Foreign Ministry. He contributed this comment, which reflects his personal opinions, to The Moscow Times.