NATO commander concerned at Russian missile deployment

BERLIN Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:45am EST

NATO's top military chief, General Philip Breedlove, speaks about the conflict in Syria during a news conference at Pristina Military Airport June 7, 2013. REUTERS/Hazir Reka

NATO's top military chief, General Philip Breedlove, speaks about the conflict in Syria during a news conference at Pristina Military Airport June 7, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hazir Reka

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BERLIN (Reuters) - NATO's military commander voiced concern on Tuesday at Russia's deployment of Iskander missiles in its Baltic Sea territory of Kaliningrad, saying it showed the need for better communication between Russia and the Western alliance.

The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia reported on Monday that the missiles, which have a range of hundreds of kilometers, have been in place in Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, "for some time".

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said on Tuesday he was concerned by the report.

"This is something that we need to understand and get the real facts on," he told a small group of reporters in Berlin.

He suggested that the disclosure showed the need for a more regular and reliable communications channel between NATO and Russian military commanders.

"Our ships in the Eastern Med(iterranean) are very close to each other ... Our aircraft every day are encountering each other in the North Sea and along the Baltics and other places. There can be no room for miscalculation," he said.

"We as military men and women in the leadership of this alliance ... we have to have a medium of trusted, constant, reliable communication," Breedlove said.

Asked if such a channel existed, he said: "I would not grade it as being where we need it to be yet but we are working at it very hard."

Reports of the missile deployment caused alarm in Poland and the Baltic states, which are wary of Russian military movements after decades of dominance by the Soviet Union. Their alarm was aggravated by tension between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

Russia said in 2011 it might put Iskanders in Kaliningrad, its westernmost region, as part of a response to an anti-missile shield the United States is building in Europe with help from NATO nations.

Asked about the reports on Monday, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies Iskanders had been deployed in western Russia but did not specify where. He said the deployments did not violate international treaties.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said when asked about the reports: "The movement of missiles or aircraft to areas where intentions are difficult to understand is counter-productive to the kind of partnership NATO seeks with Russia and to the goals we have agreed for the enhancement of security in the region."

She said NATO wanted to be more transparent in its dealings with Russia and had made repeated efforts to engage with Moscow in this area, including through invitations to observe exercises and to cooperate on missile defence. "Regrettably, Russia has yet to take up these offers," she said.

Nuclear-armed Russia says it fears the Western anti-missile shield in Europe is meant to undermine its security, upsetting the post-Cold War strategic balance.

Lungescu said NATO's missile defenses were designed against threats from outside Europe, not Russia, and could not undermine Russia's deterrent.

Russian and NATO, once Cold War foes, meet regularly at a political level. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Brussels in October that he and Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu had agreed to hold regular video conferences to seek areas for cooperation.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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