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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian Defense Ministry denies Baltic Fleet reinforcements

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, January 21 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Defense Ministry said on Thursday plans to build up the Baltic Fleet were not connected to the deployment of U.S. missiles in Poland, refuting remarks by a Navy source.

"Rumors about the possible strengthening of the surface, submarine and air components of the Baltic Fleet in response to the deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland near the Russian borders are false," a ministry spokesman said.

Poland said on Wednesday it will deploy a battery of U.S. Patriot missiles to the town of Morag, just 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, rather than outside Warsaw.

Earlier on Thursday a source in the Russian Navy, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told RIA Novosti that the Baltic Fleet would be reinforced with corvettes, submarines and aircraft armed with high-precision missiles following the Polish move.

Poland's defense minister told journalists on Wednesday the location had been chosen for purely technical reasons, citing "good infrastructure," and said there was no political or strategic motivation.

"In Morag we could offer the best conditions for American soldiers and the best technical base for the equipment," Bogdan Klich said.

Moscow is irked by the planned deployment of the Patriots, which sees it as an unfriendly and unnecessary move. But the Russian Defense Ministry said its plans to modernize the Baltic fleet were part of a broader government program rather than a reaction to the U.S. missiles.

"All measures to rearm and modernize the Russian fleets, including the Baltic Fleet, are being implemented in compliance with the current reform of the Armed Forces and in line with the state arms procurement program," the ministry said.

The issue of Patriots in Poland has resurfaced as Moscow and Washington are working hard to reset thorny ties, which reached post-Cold War lows under the previous U.S. administration.

Negotiators from both countries are expected to meet soon to resume talks about a strategic arms cuts deal intended to replace the 1991 START 1 pact, which expired in December 2009.

Russian Chief of the General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov is heading to Brussels on January 26 to take part in the first meeting between top generals from Russia and NATO countries since the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia. The meeting is expected to become one more signal that ties between Russia and the West are returning to normal.

Analysts have said that Moscow is not interested at the moment in focusing on minor controversies that could sour the new cooperative mood.

Officials on both sides have indicated that Moscow and Washington are now discussing cooperation in anti-missile defense in Europe - the biggest irritant in bilateral ties until U.S President Barack Obama last year scrapped plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

At the height of the stand-off over the U.S. missile shield plans in Europe, President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to deploy Iskander-M tactical missiles in Kaliningrad.

Patriot theater air defense systems, designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft, were initially part of U.S.-Polish missile shield deal and Warsaw insisted on their deployment going ahead despite the change in U.S. plans.

Poland and the United States signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) last December laying out the conditions for the deployment of U.S. troops on Polish soil.

According to the SOFA, about 100 U.S. troops will service up to eight Patriot missile launchers that are to be integrated into Poland's national security system.

The first U.S. troop rotation is expected to arrive in Poland in the beginning of April.

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