NATO Summit in Spain and the Russian Iskander Missile System

Yoselina Guevara
There is no doubt that dates count in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, because of their symbolic and historical value or because of the time pressure as in any war conflict. While we are anxiously awaiting what will happen on May 9, Victory Day for the Russian Federation, another of the most eagerly awaited dates is June 28-30, when the NATO Summit will be held in Spain.

The importance of this Atlantic Alliance meeting in Madrid lies in the fact that it could mean the acceptance by the thirty member countries of the possible membership application of Sweden and Finland. Unless one member state vetoes it, as Croatia’s pro-Russian President Zoran Milanović wishes. But to reach the end of June with the membership application, these countries will have to vote and decide on their request to join NATO in the coming days in their respective parliaments in Stockholm and Helsinki.

Showing its teeth

In this regard Russia is using the age-old tactic of deterrence through the display of its military might, a customary practice of nuclear powers. However, those who confront the Federation know that their pulse will not tremble and that they will indeed be able to use even the most devastating weapons.

Recently the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it is conducting military exercises simulating nuclear missile strikes in Kaliningrad province, practicing “electronic launches” of nuclear-capable mobile ballistic missiles, Iskander-M, near the Lithuanian and Polish borders. This type of exercises is not new in Kaliningrad, in fact they had already conducted them in 2016. In this case the description is quite explicit, approximately about 100 soldiers participated in multiple strike exercises against logistic and command targets, and also simulated operations in environmental conditions of radiation and chemical contamination.

Fearsome Iskander missile system

The Iskander missile system, the Persian name for Alexander the Great, is a short-range ballistic missile system of about 500 km by world standards; it can deliver Iskander-M (9M729), Iskander-K, and even 9M729 cruise missiles. Beyond the complicated transport that includes support vehicles and complex electronic launching systems, what is of interest is the danger of these missiles, especially the nuclear destructive capacity they can carry. Nuclear weapons specialists point out that the Iskander M 9K720 missile and the Iskander 9M729 cruise missile for 2005 and 2017 could carry a nuclear warhead with a capacity of 10 to 100 kilotons. In other words, these weapons would be equal to or above the destructive level of the Hiroshima bomb (15 kiloton capacity) that almost immediately killed some 146 thousand people in Japan, leaving radioactive after-effects that the population is still suffering from today.

On the other hand, the range of the Iskander tactical missiles deployed in Kaliningrad targets the main capitals of the Baltic countries: Berlin, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. In addition, of course, to NATO’s Aegis Ashore missile base in Redzikowo, Poland, which will only be active by the end of 2022. In effect this gives the Russian Federation a fairly wide range of devastating retaliatory options.

Nuclear message

Russia’s clear intention is to warn Scandinavian lawmakers, which as non-aligned countries, Sweden and Finland, have never been part of the nuclear deterrence scheme (formerly Soviet, now Russian) but as nations openly aligned against Moscow (being part of NATO) that doctrinal restraint would automatically be lost.

Especially if, in military terms, the logistical land blockade implemented by Poland and Lithuania (NATO members) against Kaliningrad were to be joined by a naval blockade operated by the navies of Sweden and Finland with the aim of disrupting Russian supplies from St. Petersburg to the strategic enclave. For the time being, the Finnish consortium Fennovoima has cancelled its contract with the Russian group Rosatom for the construction of the third nuclear power plant in Finland, citing risks related to the conflict in Ukraine. The triggering of a third world war, or a warlike confrontation of major dimensions, may be decided in the near future, perhaps only in weeks or days.

References

“Tactical nuclear weapons: history, state of the art, armaments, and strategies of the major nuclear states”. By Dmitri Sergeyevich Amirov Belova. Journal of the Spanish Institute of Strategic Studies. Year 2021.

“Non-proliferation and nuclear arms control at the crossroads”. Cuadernos de Estrategia 205. Spanish Institute of Strategic Studies. Year 2020.

“The russian operational- tactical iskander missile system”. Stefan Forss. Strategian laitos. Year 2012.


Yoselina Guevara López Correspondent in Italy

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