Russia has reportedly deployed nuclear-capable missiles closer to Europe near the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.
Moscow confirmed stationing several short-range Iskander ballistic missiles, known in NATO parlance as SS-26 Stone and capable of carrying nuclear warheads, in the enclave of Kaliningrad. The seaport borders the European Union countries and is geographically separated from the rest of Russia.
The move drew a swift rebuke from the U.S. "We've urged Moscow to take no steps to destabilize the region," Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, told The Wall Street Journal.
Russian defense officials downplayed the news, saying the missiles were moved to the area more than a year ago -- around June 2012 -- in response to ongoing development of the U.S.-backed missile defense shield in Europe.
"NATO has American tactical nuclear weapons in Europe," Viktor Zavarzin, deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, told the daily newspaper Izvestia, according to a report in the state-owned television network RT, formerly known as Russia Today. "Who can it be aimed against if not Iran? Only against us."
Russia is believed to have more than 40 of the truck-mounted missile systems, which have a range of between 170 miles and 250 miles, depending on the version. Potential international customers of the product include Iran, Libya and Belarus.