Russia moving nuclear-capable missile system into Europe
Russia is moving its Iskander-M missile system -- which is capable of launching a nuclear missile that is in violation of a bedrock international arms treaty -- to its brigade in Kaliningrad, the Russian territorial outpost between Poland and Lithuania.
The Russian Ministry of Defence announced the move on its website on January 1.
The 9M729 missile, also known as the SSC-8, is thought to be launched from the Iskander system, or one very similar to it. It has a strike range of up to 2,500km, putting it in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The historic pact bans ground-launched missiles with a range of 500km to 5,500km.
The transfer of the Iskander-M system to Russia's Western Military District will be "completed in 2019", the ministry said, and it includes "two types of missiles: ballistic and cruise".
"The complex is designed to eliminate enemy missile launchers, anti-missile and air defence systems, airplanes and helicopters at airfields, command posts and infrastructure," it said.
Empty claims, real threats
The transfer of the Iskander-M missile system within striking range of Europe is the latest in a series of boastful claims and provocations against NATO allies.
Russia has been trumpeting dubious claims regarding two weapons undergoing testing that supposedly no foe will be able to withstand, even as the Kremlin professes peaceful intentions around the globe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described a naval weapon, the Poseidon, as "invulnerable" to enemy defences, the state-run TASS Russian News Agency reported December 25.
The underwater unmanned vehicle -- previously known as the Status-6 Oceanic Multipurpose System and which NATO calls Kanyon -- is reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
At a cabinet session December 26, Putin hailed "unqualified success" in testing the hypersonic Avangard missile.
"This is a major event in the life of the Armed Forces and probably of the country," he said. "Russia now has a new strategic weapon system."
The Russian press and government have made plentiful claims of both the Poseidon and the Avangard's destructive power, although so far they have not backed up those assertions.
Putin has made no secret of his facetious approach towards nuclear security.
Putin joked on October 18 that in the event of a nuclear exchange, "We, as victims of aggression, as martyrs, will go to heaven. [The aggressors] will simply die because they won't even have time to repent."
Russian troops are still deployed in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan more than 27 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In April, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Russia's intention of increasing the combat readiness of Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, providing them with modern armament and military equipment.
INF Treaty in jeopardy
Moscow has come under increasing fire for its repeated violations of the the INF Treaty.
In early December, the United States threatened to leave the treaty if Russia fails to dismantle its missiles in breach of the 1987 agreement within 60 days.
"Russia's actions gravely undermine American national security and that of our allies and partners," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said December 4 after talks with fellow NATO foreign ministers.
"We strongly support the finding of the United States that Russia is in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty," NATO's 29 foreign ministers said in a joint statement.
In November, the Dutch government said it had evidence that Russia is violating the INF Treaty.
"The Netherlands can independently confirm that Russia has developed and is currently introducing a ground-based cruise weapon," Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Defence Minister Ank Bijleveld wrote in the joint letter dated November 27.
But with the deadline looming, and a multitude of world leaders voicing concerns over the potential demise of the INF Treaty, Russia has continued to respond with intransigence and denials.
Russian officials last month refused to allow inspectors to examine the controversial nuclear missile in potential violation of the INF treaty.