- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2001

Poland is not pleased that Russia has transferred tactical nuclear weapons to its military base on the Baltic Sea. In fact, the whole world should be alarmed.

Russia's deployment of the weapons was first disclosed by Bill Gertz of The Washington Times earlier this month, based on the testimony of U.S. officials. Although the movement of nuclear arms to the Baltic base in Kaliningrad was initially detected and photographed in June, the Defense Intelligence Agency didn't report the information to U.S. officials until December. One U.S. official interviewed by Mr. Gertz said the intelligence on Russia was suppressed for political reasons.

The aloofness with which the White House is treating the Kaliningrad scare is symptomatic of the administration's historic permissiveness with the Kremlin. Clinton administration officials have suggested they have yet to take up this matter with Moscow and have tried to downplay its significance. "There is no law or violation of any kind" if Russia sent nuclear arms to its base in Kaliningrad, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said last Thursday.

Unfortunately, a Russian deployment of these weapons is grave indeed, since it would signal a worrisome departure from Russian policy and a new level of brinkmanship. Both the Soviet and Russian governments said in 1991 and 1992 respectively that all tactical nuclear weapons were removed from Eastern Europe to more secure areas in Russia.

Russia has denied transferring any nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, claiming the reports are a "political provocation." But Poland remains unconvinced and, unlike the United States, is demanding inspection of the Kaliningrad base, which is located on the Baltic Sea, between Poland and Lithuania, about 250 miles away from Russia proper. "It is a problem whether to regard Russian assurances as credible," said Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland's defense minister, adding "when one does not let somebody in, it means he has something to hide."

But the Kremlin knows the current administration would rather allow Russia to conceal its military policies than deal with this serious defense challenge head on. In 1995, the White House promised Moscow it wouldn't sanction Russia for its arms and nuclear sales to Iran if they ended in 1999. And clearly, the White House is determined to pass on the Kaliningrad crisis to the next administration, which will need to act on this front as soon as possible. In the meantime, global security has been undermined.


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