MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Defence Ministry denied on Thursday it planned to strengthen its Baltic fleet in response to U.S. plans to deploy Patriot missiles in Poland, following a report by the state news agency RIA.
The United States is dispatching the missiles to Poland after dropping an earlier plan — bitterly opposed by Russia — to deploy interceptor missiles in the NATO nation as part of an anti-missile system in Europe.
RIA quoted an unnamed senior navy official as saying that given plans to install Patriot missile batteries in Poland over the next five to seven years, “there may be significant changes in the approach to defining the tasks and the military capabilities of the Baltic Fleet.”
The surface ship, submarine and airborne elements of the Baltic Fleet would all be strengthened, he told RIA.
But a senior Russian Defence Ministry official told Reuters there were no such plans to expand the Baltic fleet because of the Patriot deployment.
“Alleged plans to expand the strength of vessels, submarines and aviation of the Baltic fleet in connection with the planned deployment of U.S. Patriot missiles near Russian borders do not correspond with reality,” he said.
Warsaw said this week it would station the Patriot missile battery in the northern city of Morag, near Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
A high-ranking source in Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Warsaw was not overly concerned by the initial reports.
“Let’s stay calm. Such strengthening, even if it becomes true, is no direct threat to Poland,” the source told Reuters.
“The Russians have known about the Patriots for at least two years. So there is no reason to react to unofficial comments.”
Based in Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost territory, and in Kronstadt near St Petersburg, Russia’s Baltic Fleet includes surface ships, diesel-powered submarines, a military aviation wing, search and rescue vessels and land-based vessels.
The flagship is the destroyer Nastoychivy, which entered service in 1993.
Poland and the United States signed a deal in November that paves the way for the deployment of a U.S. Patriot missile battery on the U.S. ally’s territory.
Poland, perturbed what it says is Russia’s more assertive foreign policy, has long complained that it hosts no NATO troops or major NATO military installations despite sending troops to help in U.S.-led missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moscow has expressed concern about what it calls U.S. military encroachment and threatened to respond to any change in the military balance on its western borders with NATO nations.
President Dmitry Medvedev had previously warned Moscow would station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad if Washington went ahead with its original anti-missile plan. U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to revise it pleased the Kremlin.
Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov and Gabriela Baczynska in Warsaw; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Steve Gutterman and Jon Boyle