Borysfen Intel

Deployment of “Iskander” Systems — Myths and Reality

January 27, 2014
<p>Deployment of “Iskander” Systems — Myths and Reality</p>

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.


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Beleskov Mykola,
born in 1993,
student of the faculty of “International Relations", Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv


Interim Agreement with Iran and the fate of Euro Missile Defence

Complicated negotiations in Geneva between representatives of the IRI and the so-called Six countries (five permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany) ended in signing an Interim Agreement November 24, 2013, which has become the basis for a possible solution to disagreements over Iran's nuclear program. Actually, the future final Agreement, which the parties have to work out within the next 6 months, really may become the turning point in the geopolitics of the Middle East. However, the peripeteia around Iran’s nuclear program goes far beyond the region.

Thus, before Russia was actually the biggest beneficiary in the situation that arose throughout the history of a series of IRI's attempts to create its own cycle of extraction and enrichment of uranium. The Kremlin tried to use its normal relationship with the IRI in the military-technical sphere and nuclear energy as a negotiating card in the interaction with Washington. Besides, the events around the IRI's nuclear program, which Russia could influence through imposing sanctions under the consideration of UN Security Council Resolutions, as well as through the possibility of the sale of modern weaponry and works on the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant, were the option thanks to which the Kremlin could distract Washington's attention from problems in the Euro-Atlantic Region. Actually, the idea of ​​a “reset” in relations between the USA and Russia was based in part on the fact that the Kremlin would contribute to the solution, including the IRI's nuclear program. Washington, in its turn, would make concessions on more important for Moscow issues. That is why Russia perceived the Interim Agreement with IRI in two ways — on the one hand it could really prevent a possible USA's military strike at IRI. But on the other hand, this Agreement significantly changes the conditions under which Russia had been acting in the Middle East after the collapse of the USSR. So, at first glance, it is difficult to clearly define what prevailed in this Agreement for Russia — pluses or minuses.

Possibly pluses did, taking into consideration the fact which indirectly is linked to the IRI’s nuclear program. And this fact is the question of the Euro Missile Defence (EuroMD), whose creation the United States used to justify by a possible threat from the IRI. That is why the Russian Federation had been supporting the Agreement that was reached in Geneva. Thus, as early as February 13, 2009, the then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at a possibility of clotting the Euro Missile Defence in case of reaching an agreement with the IRI. In other words, they made ​​it clear for the RF that if Russia helped to reach an agreement with Tehran, it would be possible to agree on the European Missile Defence too.

Plans of deployment of U.S. missile defence system in EuropePlans of deployment of U.S. missile defence system in Europe

That is why the RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at the beginning of December 2013 during a meeting within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council at the level of Foreign Ministers raised the question about the point of further implementation of the Euro Missile Defence. In this he was supported by the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Guido Westerwelle. Actually, in the opinion of the latter, the successful solution of problems around the IRI's nuclear program would be the basis for the final settlement of issues around the Euro Missile Defence with which the Russian Federation is so concerned.

Objects placement of U.S. missile defence system in Europe
Objects placement of U.S. missile defence system in Europe

But, Barack Obama stated, the chances of a final solution to the problem of the IRI are 50/50, and therefore the further deployment of Euro Missile Defence is not removed from the agenda. With this, in fact, agreed American analysts. Thus, Steven Pifer (from Brookings Institution) also has pointed out that no one can be sure that the final agreement with the IRI can be reached. Meanwhile the completion of the phased plan of deployment of the Euro Missile Defence may deter IRI's future attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Besides, negotiations with the IRI on nuclear issue are not related to the missile program, being implemented by Tehran. According to Steven Pifer, the USA should not forget about the need to provide guarantees to its allies within the framework of NATO. So, this way or other, the United States will continue to deploy the Euro Missile Defence. However, these arguments are indirect, since they cannot deny the idea voiced by Sergei Lavrov

Factor of “Iskanders”

Radius of action of missile complex "Iskander-M" in case of deployment in the Kaliningrad region
Radius of action of missile complex "Iskander-M" in case of deployment in the Kaliningrad region

December 14, the German edition Bild reported that during 2013 Russia would deploy at least 10 “Iskander-M” (by NATO classification — SS-26 Stone) Systems in the Kaliningrad region and on the border with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Interestingly, the Bild reminded, that the missiles of the complex can have nuclear warheads. Besides, the Bild wrote that such missiles if they are deployed in the Kaliningrad region may reach Berlin. The only problem is that the range of the system is 500 km (missiles with a range from 500 to 5.000 km in the case of their location in Europe will break the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed between the USSR and the USA in 1987) and the distance to Berlin is 527 km, to be exact. However, another fact sounds disturbing — for some reason it was a German edition (!) that hastened to publish such sensational news, while reminding about the possibility of nuclear equipment and the radius that “reaches” Berlin. Maybe it's just coincidence that it was Foreign Minister of Germany who during the meeting of the Russia-NATO Council supported Russia in the issue of Euro Missile Defence and that the German edition publishes news about deploying of the “Iskander” complex. But perhaps it is not...

Against the background of this news, interesting was the reaction of Poland and the Baltic countries. On the one hand, they expressed concern about a possible increase of Russian military potential next to the NATO countries. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, for example, said that it intended to consult with partners in NATO. On the other hand the actual response was more sensible. Thus, a high-ranking official from Lithuania, said to Reuters on condition of anonymity, “At the moment I cannot imagine Russian missile attacks at a country that is a NATO member... if the deployment of new missiles did happen, it is only a demonstration of force aimed at frightening us.”

A Russian expert company embarked together to criticize the official Kremlin. Thus, Alexei Arbatov said that it was difficult to imagine the Russian Federation’s attack at a country that is a NATO member. The news about Putin's heating up the situation is exclusively a political issue and the Euro Missile Defence poses no threat to the Strategic Nuclear Forces of Russia. At this he, like Alexander Goltz, pointed out that the technical capabilities of the placed in Poland elements of the Missile Defence allow them to shoot down “Iskander” Tactical Missile System too. Although the decision to deploy the Missile Defence was made before the decision to possibly deploy “Iskander” exactly in Kaliningrad region, and did not concern them. However, this missile system can be a target for interception too. That is, one may have an impression that the news about the deployment of the “Iskander” Tactical Missile System was very timely, providing new arguments for deploying the Euro Missile Defence.

Features of the complex "Iskander-M" `
Features of the complex "Iskander-M"

Interesting was also the reaction of the RF Ministry of Defence. Thus, December 16, at the conference was neither confirmed nor refuted the actual placement of “Iskander” Systems exactly in Kaliningrad region. They spoke of the fact of “Iskander” Systems being in the Western Military District, which includes Kaliningrad region too. Also, the RF Defence Ministry assured that the deployment of systems SS-26 Stone does not contradict signed by Russia agreements. The newspaper “Izvestia” at this said that on condition of anonymity at the Ministry of Defence was confirmed the fact of the deployment of “Iskander” Tactical Missile Systems in Kaliningrad region; moreover, it was done long ago.

Other Russian commentators began to justify the fact of possible deployment of “Iskanders” by further implementation of the phased plan of deployment of the Euro Missile Defence. Indeed, in November 2011, the then President Dmitry Medvedev in response to NATO's unwillingness to provide legal guarantees for not targeting elements of the Missile Defence of the USA/NATO versus the Strategic Nuclear Forces of Russia, announced a series of countermeasures. Among them, at number 5 was mentioned the deployment of “Iskander” Systems in Kaliningrad region. However, in Poland Euro Missile Defence elements will appear not earlier than in 2018. So it turns out that placing complexes SS-26 Stone in response was ahead of time? Such inadequate actions of the Kremlin must have been favorable for those who could use the fact of possible deployment of “Iskanders” as a new argument in favor of the Euro Missile Defence — now the threat from the IRI has to be replaced with the threat from Russia.

It is clear that the premature reaction to the continued implementation of the phased plan of deployment of Euro Missile Defence in this case would remotely resemble the situation that has already been observed in the Euro-Atlantic space. Thus, in 1970-1980s the Soviet Union deployed missiles SS- 20 “Pioneer” with nuclear warheads that were a threat to European capitals (some analogy with the threat to Berlin can be seen here). However, the reaction of the USA and NATO demonstrated that the Kremlin's decision was a strategic mistake. For example, American medium-range missiles “Pershing” and cruise missiles threatened the European part of the USSR — the basis of its economic power. It is clear that the message about “Iskander” Tactical Missile Systems can also cause a similar reaction.

But there is one “but”. “Iskander” systems, this way or other, would appear in Kaliningrad, not even as a counter measures to elements of the EuroMD. Their deployment must be a consequence of the rearmament of the Russian Federation's Army and the termination of production of “Tochka- U” Missile Systems. The RF intends in 2018 to re-equip all ground forces brigades of the RF with “Iskander” systems. Then another question arises- why about the deployment of SS-26 Stone Systems Western media have mentioned only now? Why did they not talk about such a possibility when Russia announced its plan, but now, when the implementation of the Euro Missile Defense is becoming pointless? Again, a coincidence? Hardly...

But the actual reaction of the USA and NATO showed that even possible deployment of “Iskander” systems in Kaliningrad is not actually a threat to NATO members and allies of Washington. Thus, the Spokesman for the U.S. State Department Marie Harf said that the message to Moscow about concern with possible destabilization in the region is another typical statement and nothing else. Besides, during a video conference between the Secretary of Defence of the USA Chuck Hagel and Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu, December 16, 2013, was raised the question of possible deployment of “Iskanders”. However, the parties only exchanged the usual statements that are used to characterize the state of the relationship. Similarly, on the 17th of ​​December, 2013 the NATO representative Oana Lungescu said that such RF's actions were “counterproductive”. The NATO Commander in Europe Philip Bridlav reacted to the news about the possible deployment of SS-26 Stone Systems with the idea of ​​the necessity to maintain “trustful relationship and dialogue” with Russia.

U.S. experts also proposed a more balanced approach to the news about the possible deployment of “Iskander” systems. Thus, it was recognized that to the traditional partners of Russia in the EU (the so-called Old Europe), these rockets are no threat. In general, the logics of possible deployment is not so much military as psychological — to show that the Kremlin does not understand the logics of continuation of implementation of the EuroMD in terms of the achieved Agreement with Iran. This can make Europe increase pressure on Washington demanding to find a more acceptable for Russia formula on EuroMD. In its turn, this would become the guarantor of prevention of quasi-confrontation behavior of the Kremlin, which old European capitals want to avoid under any circumstances.

Note that this time the situation got dried as quickly as it appeared. December 19, 2013, President Vladimir Putin during his final conference said that Russia did not place “Iskander” systems close to Poland since, in his opinion, this is not the only way to counter the deployment of the Euro Missile Defence. To be more exact, the Kremlin has not yet decided whether to deploy them in Kaliningrad region. At the same time, V. Putin once again reminded of the presence in Europe of US tactical nuclear warheads, which also justifies possible deployment of “Iskanders”. Interestingly, the corresponding nuclear warheads are in Western Europe — again clearly emerges the desire to oppose the countries of old Europe against the USA.

Analyzing the developments, one can notice another interesting detail — Russia did not deny immediately reports on deployment of “Iskander” systems. Most likely it happened so due to the fact that information confrontation is part of the Russian Federation's strategy, which it tries to use to CEE countries. Here we have an interesting example of how the Russian side decided to take an advantage of the beginning of implementation of the information operation and to use it for its own interests. Indeed, if Russia really did not deploy the systems, why was it waiting almost for a week to deny such news? All the more so, because December 18, 2013 the RF Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu makes a statement about “Iskander” systems in style “we deploy where we want to”. This statement, as well as the explanation of the Defence Ministry on 16 December, is actually an attempt to stress the uncertainty of the situation regarding possible deployment of “Iskanders”. It is clear that they would be directed against Poland and the Baltic States; — in such a way the Kremlin has to make it clear about the fatal consequences of hostile actions toward the Russian Federation. Of course, one of these steps is precisely the possible deployment of Euro Missile Defence elements that are certainly no threat to the RF Strategic Nuclear Forces today or for the next 25 years. Yet the deployment of the EuroMD base in Poland would mean the presence of at least a minimum of U.S. troops, that would have a deterrent effect and would be an expression of real guarantees within the framework of NATO in case of possible hostile actions of the RF. Publications in Polish mass media, such as “Russia took Poland into siege” had to sow and strengthen panic which Russia wanted to use, offering a deal like “you are not deploying EuroMD elements at your territory, and we will not deploy SS-26 Stone systems”. Thus, Tom Collina from the Association for Arms Control, said, commenting on the news about SS-26 Stone systems, that this situation is the reason for the USA and Russia to begin withdrawal of missile, anti-missile and nuclear systems from the region. That is, some American experts have also spoken about such a possibility.

Such Russia's attempts had quite positive results as they did cause a series of panic publications. They argued that, taking into consideration “the USA's turning to Asia” and a lack of consensus between the USA and Europe as part of NATO's coherent strategy of countering Russia, it could be the reason for the Kremlin to restore its control over CEE. But in fact, Russia's attempts to frighten with news about possible deployment of “Iskander” systems against CEE were not effective. Thus, the Chief of the National Security Bureau of Poland Stanislaw Koziej in his interview to “Gazeta Wyborcza” hastened to reassure the Polish audience, against which the Russian information campaign was directed. He explained that the Polish Armed Forces have a military response to the actions of the RF: Krab cannons are deployed in such a way that almost completely cover Kaliningrad region. According to him, the news about “Iskander” systems is more propaganda than real military issues. And the situation itself actually concerns further fate of Euro Missile Defence.

Instead of a conclusion

As we can see, each side during the 14th-19th of December 2013 was trying to achieve its goal in information confronting around the news concerning deployment of “Iskander” system in Kaliningrad region, while being very well aware that there were no such complexes there. Thus, the West, apart from typical attempts to play the card of “Russian threat”, was trying to identify Russian Tactical Missile Systems as an alternative target for EuroMD. Russia in Nikita Khrushchev's style decided to once again frighten the neighbors with non-existent, or rather, not deployed missiles — that is, to play on the nerves of Poland and the Baltic countries, believing that it could make them make concessions and take on a more pro-Russian position regarding the EuroMD. Perhaps this is why, December 19, 2013 Sergei Lavrov repeated to his Polish colleague Radoslaw Sikorskyi the earlier announced point of view that the Agreement with the IRI makes Euro Missile Defence pointless. This is probably a kind of hint like “So what for do you, guys, need problems like our missiles so close? While in the future countering the EuroMD becomes more hypothetical, the threat from our missiles is real”.

It is clear that each side will continue to implement its pre-defined plans. Poland will want to see elements of EuroMD at its territory as actual implementation of guarantees of the United States within the framework of NATO. The RF this way or other will deploy “Iskanders” in Kaliningrad — plans for the rearmament of ground units by 2018 must be fulfilled. Because, as correctly stated on December 15 Chief Editor of “Russia in Global Politics” Fyodor Lukyanov, “...Even the most committed hawks in the Pentagon or in Arbat Square cannot imagine an armed conflict to break out with participation of the great powers. And, by the way, this is why so quietly, not looking back at possible consequences, they begin to act, deploying U.S. Missile Defence Systems in Europe, or responding to this by setting missile systems along the zone of responsibility of the Alliance. If the confrontation were real, they would think a hundred times if it is not too risky”.

That is why the West and Russia “fight” without real weapons, but at the level of news about its possible deployment!

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