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Russia moves nuclear missiles onto NATO's doorstep

Moscow has said that the Iskander-M missiles were transported to Kaliningrad for a military drill. Lithuania's Foreign Minister has said the move seeks to pressure the West into making concessions over Syria and Ukraine.

Russian military forces has transported nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into the Kaliningrad region bordering Lithuania and Poland, both of whom NATO members, it was confirmed on Saturday.

The spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, said: "These missile units have been deployed more than once (in the Kaliningrad region)... and will be deployed as part of military training of the Russian armed forces."

The United States and Lithuania said that moving the missiles could be a political gesture and expression of Moscow's displeasure with NATO. The Lithuanian foreign ministry also warned that Moscow was using the move to "seek concessions from the West" over its role the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

"Russia is holding military exercises in Kaliningrad, and its scenario includes deployment of Iskander missile systems and the possibile use of them. We are aware of it," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said.

Linkevicius said that modified Iskander missiles can achieve a range of up to 700 kilometers (440 miles), far enough to reach the German capital, Berlin.

Poland's Defense Minister, Antoni Macierewicz, described Moscow's actions as "very alarming."

Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its westernmost region in 2015 as part of a series of military drills amid heightened tensions over Ukraine.

Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius (DW/M. Griebeler)

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius

Konashenkov reiterated on Saturday that the Kaliningrad enclave is "not an exception" to drills conducted across the country.

In the years since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and launched its military campaign in Syria, tensions with the West have escalated to their worst level since the Cold War.

On Friday, the United States called for Russia and Syria to be investigated for war crimes for the bombing of hospitals in Aleppo. It also accused Moscow of interfering in the US presidential election.

Russia has also increased its military presence along its border with the NATO Baltic states, conducting a series of war games and training exercises, sometimes involving tens of thousands of troops.

NATO, meanwhile, has agreed to bolster its own military presence along its eastern flank. It will deploy four additional battalions in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia as of next year.

Karte Infografik NATO-Truppen seit Beginn der Ukraine-Krise Englisch

dm/rc (Reuters, AFP)