Imagine opening your morning paper and being faced with a map showing nuclear arms pointed right at your country—by your historic enemy no less. The conservative daily Zycie printed a front-page map that showed the 70 km range of the alleged Kaliningrad-based tactical nuclear weapons, threatening northern provinces of Poland and southern parts of Lithuania.
All things considered, the Polish public and official reaction has been reasonable and measured. There seems to be a very realistic appreciation that there are implications in the alleged situation far beyond questions of Polish national security. Concomitantly, the threat has been assessed as a direct challenge to NATO, and NATO expansion, rather than specifically to Poland.
The Washington Times first broke the story, quoting unnamed US intelligence officials that there had been movement detected in June 2000, but that the movement was not reported in an internal US Defence Intelligence Agency report until December. The officials said the movement was "a sign Moscow is following through on threats to respond to NATO expansion with the forward deployment of nuclear weapons." Poland swiftly called for international inspection of alleged Russian weapon stores in the Kaliningrad enclave.
The proof is in the pictures
The national daily Rzeczpospolita reported that the Polish government had obtained satellite photos from NATO confirming the deployment of missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The paper quoted a high-level NATO source as saying that "satellite photos have confirmed the deployment last June of new missiles in Kaliningrad, but we cannot be 100 per cent certain they contain nuclear warheads."
Marek Menkiszak, an analyst at Poland's Eastern Studies Center, considered the report "completely credible." He stated that Russia has "constantly modernized and developed" its military arsenal in the Kaliningrad enclave, while refusing international arms inspectors access to certain sites.
Testing the US
He went on, "It is completely possible that not all the nuclear weapons positioned there during Communist times were removed. According to Russia's new military doctrine nuclear weapons are of strategic importance because of the weakness of conventional forces." Furthermore, he believes Moscow may be "testing the new US administration on its intentions about enlarging NATO to include the Baltic states." Poland joined NATO against Moscow's very strong objections.
When the story initially broke, Defence Minister Bronisław Komorowski said the government was taking the issue very seriously, and "appropriate services" were analysing the reports. "The problem is whether we can treat assurances that there are no nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad as credible," said Mr Komorowski. Whether the reports are true or not, the single most important impact of this latest incident is to diminish any gains that have been made in building a relationship between Poland and Russia.
Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas, analyst at the Polish Academy of Science, noted, "the installation of missiles is a bad sign for the Baltic countries, which want to join NATO, but which Moscow wants to keep in its sphere of influence ... It is a step back towards Cold War realities." He elaborated, "From the military point of view, the deployment of the tactical weapons has limited significance. But the move may persuade public opinion internationally that NATO expansion would destabilise regional security."
Is Putin credible?
Russia's Defence Ministry said reports of a build-up were "absolutely untrue," and President Vladimir Putin also flatly denied the accusations. Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov, in charge of Russia's powerful Baltic Fleet, said Kaliningrad's designated non-nuclear status was safe, "No one has infringed on this situation [or] plans to."
A Polish diplomat said the alleged deployment probably served to discourage NATO from further eastward expansion and preserve Moscow's image as a military superpower despite a decline in its conventional forces. "It is a worrying sign that Moscow still treats Kaliningrad as a military bastion rather than a zone of economic cooperation with the Baltic region and the European Union," he said.
The diplomat continued,"The accumulation of military arms, among them weapons capable of delivering nuclear warheads, in the region since 1990 is disproportionate to the defensive needs of the region," Bronisław Komorowski said in a radio interview. Warsaw wants a reduction of weapons in the Kaliningrad enclave, he added, and said the issue would be raised with Moscow soon by Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewski.
The Security adviser to President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, Marek Siwiec, said, "In the name of good neighbourly relations I believe we should have checks into this matter." And government spokesman Krzysztof Luft added that international inspection would put an end to speculation. While he didn't elaborate under whose auspices such an inspection could be organised, he said only that Poland planned to consult its partners from the NATO military alliance on the issue. "We hope Russia would give its agreement to such inspections," said Luft, adding that, "Poland would like this solution."
But whether inspections are allowed or not, and whether the allegations are unfounded or not, the situation simply highlights a continuing fundamental lack of faith in the sincerity and transparency of the Russian government. It is Moscow that stands to lose most in this fiasco. Criticism has been swift and has come relatively closely on the heels of the Kursk mess. Regarding Putin as a man who can be "worked with" surely should be seriously questioned.
Joanna Rohozińska, 15 January 2001
photo by Endre Sebok
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