AN ALARMING signal Vladimir Putin is preparing for war has come after his top military chiefs revealed the Kremlin is deploying much-feared Iskander and S-400 long-range missile defence systems deep inside Europe.
Iskander missiles are nuclear-capable and the deployment to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad puts vast swathes of Europe in the crosshairs of Moscow’s short-range ballistic missile programme.
With a range of roughly 300 miles, the Iskander missile could hit targets as far away as Berlin, Poland and Sweden with an atomic warhead.
Dubbed the ‘Growler’ by NATO, the S-400 is an anti-aircraft missile system that can cover short and long-range targets.
Confirmation of the antagonistic move by Vladimir Putin’s administration came from the head of the defence committee in the Russian upper house of parliament.
Viktor Ozerov told Russian news agency RIA the government saw the deployment of its missiles near the western border as a response to Washington setting up a US missile shield in Europe.
The development comes as Mr Putin hit out at the West for plans to increase Nato.
In an interview with Russian TV today, the leader said: “Why are we reacting to NATO expansion so emotionally? We are concerned by NATO’s decision making.”
Relations between Russia and the West have plunged to their lowest point since the Cold War in recent months.
Both sides have ramped up their defence spending, missile programmes and defensive shields as Europe enters what many observers believe is a new Cold War.
The Kremlin has often threatened to put nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad as a riposte to the shield, which is located in Romania.
Mikhail Barabanov, a senior research fellow at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, which advises the Russian Defence Ministry, warned earlier this year it was “inevitable” that the Kremlin would deploy the missiles there permanently by 2019.
The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile and can carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
Iskander missiles have been deployed twice by Russia on exercises in Kaliningrad – but on both occasions they are believed to have been withdrawn.
Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave separate from the mainland and on the Baltic Sea, houses dozens of warships, submarines, land troops, a naval brigade and two military airbases.
Commanders fear in a conflict Russia’s significant military buildup in the province could block attempts by NATO to reach the Baltic states and north-eastern Poland.
Hundreds of British soldiers are heading to the region as part of a major operation by NATO to station high-readiness troops along the border with Russia.
Commenting on Russia’s recent military deployments, both to the war in Syria and closer to home along the border with Europe, a senior NATO diplomat said: “Putin is showing a desire for dominance.
“From the Arctic, to the Baltic and the Black Sea, sometimes simultaneously, Russia wants to use sophisticated weaponry mixed with ships of a Soviet vintage.”
NATO plans to send 4,000 troops, planes, tanks and artillery to former Soviet republics in the Baltics and to Poland next year.
But bosses at the Brussels-Based alliance believe there are around 330,000 Russian troops stationed near Moscow.