- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

Russia is moving tactical nuclear weapons into a military base in Eastern Europe for the first time since the Cold War ended in an apparent effort to step up military pressure on the expanded NATO alliance, The Washington Times has learned.

The transfers of battlefield nuclear weapons to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad followed threats several years ago to position such weapons outside of Russia's territory in response to expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Kaliningrad is a Baltic Sea port located between Poland and Lithuania, and a major military base for Russian ground and naval forces, including the headquarters of the Baltic Fleet.

The movement of the new battlefield nuclear arms was detected in June and is a sign Moscow is following through on threats to respond to NATO expansion with the forward deployment of nuclear weapons, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with reports of the activity.

The precise type of new tactical weapons could not be learned. Some defense officials said they are probably for use on a new short-range missile known as the Toka. A Toka was test-fired on April 18 in Kaliningrad. It has a range of about 44 miles.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon declined to comment on intelligence reports of the movement of tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad.

However, Mr. Bacon said in an interview: "If the Russians have placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, it would violate their pledge that they were removing nuclear weapons from the Baltics, and that the Baltics should be nuclear-free."

Russia and the United States announced in 1991 and 1992 a non-binding agreement to reduce arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons.

In 1991, President George Bush ordered the military to unilaterally cut U.S. arsenals of tactical nuclear arms. Weapons were removed from ships and from many overseas bases.

The Soviet and Russian governments announced in 1991 and 1992, respectively, that all tactical nuclear weapons were removed from Eastern Europe to more secure areas in Russia. It was not clear whether that included nuclear weapons based in Kaliningrad.

Some U.S. tactical nuclear arms remain in Europe and Moscow has continued to demand their withdrawal in arms talks with U.S. officials.

Moscow also has refused to discuss the status and deployment of its tactical nuclear weapons with the United States, despite the Clinton administration's provision of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Russia to help eliminate its nuclear arms or protect them against theft, according to defense officials.

Clinton administration arms-control officials suggested the tactical nuclear arms in Kaliningrad may be part of an attempt by Moscow to test the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush.

Cuts in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear arsenals are supposed to be discussed in new U.S.-Russian negotiations on a START III arms treaty.

The forward deployment of new tactical nuclear arms is viewed by many defense officials as a worrisome sign Moscow is beefing up defenses against NATO.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO in 1999, angering Moscow, which fears encroachment by what it views as a Cold War alliance against the Soviet Union.

There also has been talk of some or all of the Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joining the alliance.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said during a visit to Lithuania in June that it is "possible" the Vilnius government could join the alliance in the future. "We have indicted that the door to NATO remains open," Mr. Cohen said at the time.

In June 1998, Russian military officials stated that if the Baltic States joined NATO Moscow would base tactical nuclear arms in Kaliningrad.

Russia already has deployed its most advanced air-defense missiles, the S-300, in Kaliningrad, a sign that it plans to protect the enclave from attack.

Defense officials said Russian military exercises in the summer and fall of 1999 called Zapad-99 or "West-99" simulated a NATO attack against Kaliningrad. During the maneuvers, Russia's forces resorted to use of nuclear strikes and carried out air-launched cruise missiles against targets in Europe and the United States.

One official said the intelligence information about the new tactical nuclear arms was discovered in June but withheld from most policy-makers until last month, when it was first reported in the Military Intelligence Daily, the Defense Intelligence Agency's main intelligence report.

An intelligence official, however, said Kaliningrad nuclear reporting was not suppressed.

The Kaliningrad nuclear arms are part of an estimated 4,000 to 15,000 low-yield nuclear weapons in Russia's stockpile. They include artillery shells, short-range missile warheads, nuclear air-defense and ballistic missile defense interceptors, nuclear torpedoes and sea-launched cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons for shorter-range aircraft.

Russian military officials in the past have denied any nuclear arms are stored at the military facilities in Kaliningrad, although U.S. intelligence agencies suspected some nuclear arms, particularly naval weapons, are still there.

The sharp decline in Russia's military forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has increased Moscow's reliance on tactical nuclear weapons.

Defense analysts said the Russian military views these tactical weapons as war-fighting arms, in contrast to its strategic nuclear weapons that serve primarily as deterrent forces.

Russia's government announced in 1999, following NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, that nuclear forces would remain the key element of military power.

At the time, Vladimir Putin, who later became President Boris Yeltsin's successor, announced that Mr. Yeltsin had signed three decrees outlining the development of Russia's nuclear weapons complex, including a new concept for developing and using nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

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