Russia celebrated its annual "Strategic Missile Force Day" on Dec. 17 in style, confirming recent reports that it has repositioned nuclear weapons to its border with NATO allies.
State news service RIA Novosti reported Monday evening that Russia had moved 10 Iskander-M (SS-26 Stone) theater ballistic missiles to its border with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all NATO countries – as well as to Kaliningrad at its border with the Baltic region.
Russian officials say this "firm gesture" is in response to America's missile shield in Europe which Moscow perceives as a threat, RIA reports. The Russian military says this does not violate existing international weapons treaties.
"The deployment of Iskander missile battalions on the territory of the Western Military District does not violate any respective international agreements," said Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defence.
These missiles are only capable of reaching a distance of roughly 250 miles, and do not violate the U.S. and Russia's 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Konashenkov says. These weapons are "in-theater" range, farther than tactical range – categories that replace the Cold War terminology of short-, medium- and intermediate-range weapons.
'We've shared with Russia the concerns that countries in the neighborhood have," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday afternoon. "We've urged Moscow to take no steps to destabilize the region.
The move came a day before Tuesday's celebration of Russian Strategic Missile Force Day. It also followed the first-ever video teleconference between U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu on Monday. The two countries agreed to the conferences as a part of their bilateral meetings in August.
The pair discussed missile defense among other pressing national security issues, such as the ongoing crisis in Syria and cyber security. Hagel stressed that "U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts pose no threat to Russia," according to a readout from their conversation, and "urged both sides continue consultations on future missile plans in Europe."
The Russian military also announced a new ballistic missile submarine joined its navy fleet on Saturday. It has not yet been cleared for its primary role of nuclear deterrence.
Iskander missiles were first used during Russia's 2008 war with Georgia and have since defined Russia's response to heightened tensions with the U.S., reports The New York Times.
Russia's latest military moves comes at a complicated time for its geopolitics. The Ukranian government indicated on Friday it would consider signing economic accords with the European Union following extensive protests at home, a move Ukranian leaders worry will leave it out of favor with Russia, a traditional partner.