Lithuania claims Russia deployed warheads near border

AFP , Tuesday 8 Feb 2011

Lithuania claims Russia has deployed short-range nuclear warheads in its Kaliningrad territory

Russia has deployed short-range nuclear warheads in its Kaliningrad territory which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania, Lithuanian Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene claimed Tuesday.

"We want major nations to start negotiations on reducing the number of such weapons. It's no secret that such weapons are deployed near us, in Kaliningrad. And to our east as well," Jukneviciene told Lithuanian public radio.

Rumours have repeatedly surfaced of the presence of such arms in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory sandwiched between the Baltic Sea, Poland and Lithuania.

In November the Russian military dismissed US media reports that it had moved short-range -- or tactical -- warheads to Kaliningrad earlier in 2010 despite pledges made as early as 1991.

"It's in our interest that so many arms, including tactical nuclear weapons which present a threat to our existence, are not amassed all round our borders," said Jukneviciene.

Lithuania and its fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia watch hawkishly for Russian military moves. Moscow only withdrew its troops from their territory in 1994, three years after they won independence when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The Baltic trio, with a total population of 6.7 million, have rocky relations with giant Russia, notably since they became anchored in the West by joining NATO and the European Union in 2004.

Lithuania hailed Russia's recent ratification of the updated START arms-reduction treaty with the United States that covers long-range missiles.

Washington is keen to launch talks over short-range weapons that have remained uncovered by previous nuclear disarmament agreements with Russia.

But on Monday Moscow said it was premature to set a date for a new round of talks.

It argued they could only begin once Washington was ready to reconsider its position on a new missile defence shield for Europe, which foresees anti-missile facilities in former Soviet satellite states now in NATO.

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