- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2001

The State Department will question Moscow about the recent deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to a military base in a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, a spokesman said yesterday.
"We will be raising it with the Russians," said Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman. He was commenting on reports of the transfer that first appeared in yesterday's editions of The Washington Times.
The weapons transfer was detected by U.S. spy agencies in June.
It is the first time battlefield nuclear arms have been moved into the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
The spokesman's remarks are a sign the administration has not raised the matter with Moscow during arms control talks in the past six months, according to U.S. officials.
The failure to respond to intelligence reports of the transfers supports claims by some U.S. intelligence officials that the information was suppressed for political reasons.
The disclosure comes weeks after it was revealed that the administration concluded secret agreements with Russia on Moscow's arms and nuclear transfers to Iran.
Republicans in Congress have said they were kept in the dark about a 1995 agreement signed by Vice President Al Gore and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian prime minister, that helped Russia avoid U.S. sanctions required under proliferation laws.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Tuesday that if Moscow has placed tactical nuclear arms in Kaliningrad "it would violate their pledge that they were removing nuclear weapons from the Baltics, and that the Baltics should be nuclear-free."
Russian government officials, meanwhile, dismissed the nuclear deployment reports as untrue.
"This report can only be a political provocation," said Anatoly Lobsky, a spokesman for Russia's Baltic Fleet. He insisted to reporters in Kaliningrad, where the fleet is based, that the Baltic Fleet has no nuclear weapons.
Mr. Lobsky, an assistant to the fleet commander, said the naval forces in the Kaliningrad enclave, a noncontiguous slice of Russia between Poland and Lithuania, are abiding by obligations to keep the Baltics a nuclear-free zone.
In Moscow, the defense ministry press office issued a statement saying "information on a transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to the Kaliningrad region has no basis in fact."
Governments of the former Soviet-occupied Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia reacted with concern over the reports.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius told the Associated Press in Vilnius: "This sounds alarming, but I see no reason Russia should try to escalate the situation in the Baltic region."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis told reporters in Vilnius that "similar reports have been appearing several times a year, but after raising public concern they after some time are usually forgotten."
"To date none of these reports have been confirmed, so I would like not to comment on the recent reports, too," Mr. Valionis said.
"We don't know whether it's true or not," said a spokesman for Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves. "But if it is true, it is regretful, because it decreases the stability of the region."
In Latvia, Liiga Bergmane, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said the government was seeking independent confirmation of the nuclear arms reports.
"We don't see any reason why Russia should want to change its policy of keeping these kinds of weapons out of the Baltic region," she said. "Russia pledged not to increase nuclear arms here and we can't imagine why it would reconsider."
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, outgoing chairman of the House International Relations Committee, said the transfers, if confirmed, are alarming.
"If Russia has in fact transferred tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, we would have to view that as an alarming development that threatens the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe," the New York Republican said. "These reports underscore the need to promptly enlarge the NATO alliance to include the previously captive nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia."
Mr. Boucher declined to comment directly on the report, citing the policy of avoiding comment on intelligence matters.
"That would get into confirming the specifics, which I can't do, but we believe there is something to discuss with the Russians, yes," he stated, noting, "That's about as far as I can go. We don't talk about questions that involve intelligence."
"This is a situation that we are following closely," Mr. Boucher told reporters. "It's something that we'll be talking about with the Russians, as we do on all arms-control issues."
The spokesman said the Russian government's unilateral pledges to keep nuclear weapons out of the region are not "any sort of legally binding commitment."
U.S. national security officials said they are uncertain as to why Russia decided to move tactical nuclear transfers to Kaliningrad.
Several U.S. officials told The Times that the weapons transfers could be a sign Moscow is following through on threats to "forward-deploy" nuclear arms in reaction to the 1999 addition of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to NATO over Moscow's opposition.
The deployment also is viewed as part of Moscow's recent nuclear policy decree that gives the military greater reliance on battlefield nuclear weapons because of the decline of its conventional forces.
Some officials said the weapons may be for use on a new short-range missile Russia calls Toka. The missile was tested in Kaliningrad on April 18 and has a range of about 44 miles.
One U.S. official told Reuters that "over the last six months there has been some movement of tactical nuclear weapons into Kaliningrad we don't know how many, we don't know what type and we don't know why."
A second official said the transfer may represent Moscow's new doctrine that calls for relying more on battlefield nuclear weapons.
"Tactical nukes can be a cheaper way of maintaining your deterrence capabilities as opposed to the more expensive, larger conventional forces," this official said.
"If you are worried about deterrence and your forces are deteriorating, nukes do wonders for your self-confidence," the official said.

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