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02/12/2016

Russia beefs up Baltic Fleet with cruise missile-armed ships

Global Europe

Russia beefs up Baltic Fleet with cruise missile-armed ships

The Serpukhov [Sputnik]

Russia is reinforcing its Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad with two small warships armed with long-range cruise missiles to counter what it sees as a worrying NATO build-up in the region, Izvestia reported today (26 October).

There was no official confirmation from Moscow, but the report will raise tensions in the Baltic already heightened by Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and is likely to cause particular consternation in Poland and Lithuania, which share land borders with Kaliningrad.

The reported deployment comes at a time when NATO is planning its biggest military build-up on Russia’s borders since the Cold War to counter Moscow. Russian military analysts said the move looked like a direct response to NATO.

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Izvestia cited an unnamed military source as saying that the two ships, the Serpukhov and the Zeleny Dol, had already entered the Baltic Sea and would soon become part of a newly formed division.

The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation said earlier this month that the two ships had left their Black Sea base to join Russia’s naval force in the Mediterranean.

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The Buyan-class corvettes are armed with nuclear-capable Kalibr cruise missiles, known by the NATO codename Sizzler, which the Russian military says have a range of at least 1,500 kilometres (932.06 miles).

Though variants of the missile are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the ships are believed to be carrying conventional warheads.

Sweden worried

Izvestia said Russia’s Baltic Fleet, which is based in its European exclave of Kaliningad, would probably receive a further three such small warships armed with the same missiles by the end of 2020.

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It said the Baltic Fleet’s coastal defences would also be beefed up with the Bastion and Bal land-based missile systems. The Bastion is a mobile defence system armed with two anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 300 km (188 miles). The Bal anti-ship missile has a similar range.

Sweden’s Defence Minister said his country was worried by the presence of the warships in the Baltic Sea, complaining the move was likely to keep tension in the region high.

Sweden’s military confirmed the two vessels had entered the Baltic, but declined to give further information. Russian defence officials were not immediately available for comment.

“This is … worrying and is not something that helps to reduce tensions in our region,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told Sweden’s national TT news agency. “This affects all the countries round the Baltic.”

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Swedish media said the Kalibr missiles had the range to hit targets across the Nordic region. The Russian Defence Ministry said in August that the two corvettes had been used to fire cruise missiles at militants in Syria.

Earlier this month, Russia moved nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into Kaliningrad leading to protests from Lithuania and Poland.