- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

Poland's government yesterday called for international inspections of military facilities in a neighboring Russian enclave to see if Moscow secretly moved nuclear arms there last summer.

A State Department official, however, rejected the idea and said it hopes Poland will "consult" with its NATO allies on the issue.

The Pentagon also sought to play down the issue, claiming that the new battlefield nuclear weapons do not represent a dramatic power shift in Europe.

However, Poland's defense minister questioned the veracity of Russian denials about the nuclear weapons and said inspections, perhaps under NATO direction, are needed.

"Poland needs to monitor the situation in Kaliningrad on a day-to-day basis, and it is doing that," Polish Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski told Polish television. "Verification will include pushing for international inspection, which is a normal thing."

He did not say how any inspections would be conducted, but said they could be done under NATO auspices, through contacts between the alliance and Russia. Poland joined the alliance in 1998, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic.

The defense minister was commenting on reports that Russia recently moved tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania, in violation of a pledge to keep the region free of nuclear arms.

Russia's government, meanwhile, again denied that nuclear arms were moved to Kaliningrad, headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. The nuclear arms transfer was first reported Tuesday by The Washington Times.

"The Baltic Sea has been declared a nuclear-free zone, and the Baltic Fleet unfailingly fulfills its commitments," said fleet spokesman Anatoly Lobsky.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that Russia in June moved unspecified tactical nuclear weapons to military facilities in Kaliningrad. Tactical nuclear weapons are low-yield arms that can be deployed on missiles, aircraft, artillery shells and torpedoes.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the Polish government's call for nuclear inspections.

A State Department official, however, said the U.S. government does not support the inspection request because there are no arms-control agreements allowing them.

"We do not inspect nuclear storage facilities except as agreed to under relevant arms-control agreements," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, said international inspection in Kaliningrad should be a "minimum requirement."

"I'm very troubled by the movement of these nuclear arms to the Baltics that the Russians had said they would not move forward on," said Mr. Weldon. "It sends a very bad signal."

"At a very minimum, there needs to be inspections because they should have nothing to hide," the Pennsylvania Republican said.

Mr. Weldon also said the Clinton administration has not been "open and candid" with Congress regarding the movement of the tactical nuclear weapons.

The Russians also should take steps to "reach out" to the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush.

Mr. Komorowski, the Polish defense minister, questioned Russian military statements on the matter. "It is a problem whether to regard Russian assurances as credible," he said, noting that Moscow in the past has blocked inspection of certain facilities in Kaliningrad.

The defense minister noted that if the Russians refuse to allow inspections in a search for nuclear arms it would raise questions because "when one does not let somebody in, it means he has something to hide."

At the Pentagon, spokesman Kenneth Bacon said he could not answer questions directly about the tactical nuclear weapons transfers, citing a policy of not commenting on intelligence reports.

He suggested that movement of the arms to the region may be linked to Moscow's revised military doctrine that calls for greater reliance on nuclear weapons to compensate for Russia's declining conventional forces.

"We do not think there has been a dramatic change in the military balance in Europe recently, certainly, and we're aware that the Russians have made statements saying that as their conventional forces get weaker, that they will look more and more to their nuclear forces," he said.

The Pentagon spokesman said any nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad may be arms that were removed from ships and air and ground forces as part of a cutback that began in the early 1990s.

"It's highly possible that they took tactical nuclear weapons off their ships and stored them in Kaliningrad," he said. "It's highly possible they stored army and air force weapons at storage sites in Kaliningrad."

On Tuesday, Mr. Bacon said the movement of tactical nuclear arms to Kaliningrad would be a violation of a Russian pledge to remove all forward-deployed nuclear weapons to Russia and to keep all nuclear arms out of the Baltic region.

Asked if the arms are vulnerable to theft or attack, Mr. Bacon said, "Our experience has been that generally the Russians have been quite diligent in securing their weapons."

Russia's government viewed the NATO alliance expansion as threatening and warned in 1998 that it might position nuclear weapons outside Russia because of NATO expansion.

After NATO carried out an aerial bombing campaign in Yugoslavia in 1999, Russia's then-national security chief, Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia had issued new military decrees on the use of nuclear weapons, including battlefield nuclear arms. Mr. Putin is now president.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military affairs analyst, said any new tactical nuclear arms are probably related to the Russian Navy.

"If they did bring tactical nuclear weapons for training or some other purpose to Kaliningrad, they would most likely be naval, like torpedo warheads," Mr. Felgenhauer said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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