MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s military said Thursday it has deployed warplanes armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s westernmost Baltic region, a move that comes amid a context of growing tensions with the West over Moscow’s action in Ukraine.
The Russian Defense Ministry said three MiG-31 fighters equipped with hypersonic Kinzhal missiles arrived at Chkalovsk air base in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad as part of “additional strategic deterrence measures”.
The ministry said the fighter jets will be put on 24-hour alert.
Video released by the Department of Defense showed the fighters arriving at the base but not carrying the missiles, which were apparently delivered separately.
Finland’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that two Russian MIG-31 fighter jets were suspected of violating Finnish airspace in the Gulf of Finland off the southern town of Porvoo, west of Helsinki. . The Nordic country’s border guards have opened a preliminary investigation into the incident.
The deployment of Kinzhal missiles in Kaliningrad as Russia’s campaign in Ukraine nears its sixth month seemed intended to show the Russian military‘s ability to threaten NATO assets. The region borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania.
Moscow has strongly criticized Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, accusing the United States and its allies of fueling the conflict.
The Russian military claims the Kinzhal has a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it difficult to intercept. Russia has used the weapon to hit several targets in Ukraine.
Kaliningrad’s location put it at the forefront of Moscow’s efforts to counter what it described as NATO’s hostile policy. The Kremlin has methodically built up its military forces there, arming them with state-of-the-art weaponry, including precision-guided Iskander missiles and an array of air defense systems.
“Events in Ukraine have demonstrated that a confrontation with the collective West is a real possibility,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said on Thursday, stressing that a “direct confrontation with the United States and NATO is not in our interests.”
Speaking at a briefing, Nechayev said: “Russia, as a nuclear power, will continue to act with maximum responsibility” and “Russian military doctrine only contemplates a nuclear response in retaliation for a aggression involving weapons of mass destruction or in a situation where the existence of the state is threatened.
The Russian army is equipped with conventional weapons that “enable it to fully implement the goals set by the Russian president“, he added.
“We assume that the United States and NATO know where their aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric, emphasizing the possible use of nuclear weapons, may lead,” Nechayev said.
He said Russia believes “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought”, a view reaffirmed by five nuclear powers earlier this year.
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