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Lithuania eyes Norway air defence deal amid Russia fears
by Staff Writers
Vilnius (AFP) Sept 26, 2016


Pentagon chief calls Russia out over 'nuclear saber-rattling'
Minot Air Force Base, United States (AFP) Sept 26, 2016 - Russia could be more willing to deploy nuclear weapons today than the Soviet Union ever was during the Cold War, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter warned Monday.

Speaking at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota near the Canadian border, he accused Moscow of "nuclear saber-rattling," expressing concerns over Russia's push to overhaul its atomic weapons systems.

It "raises serious questions about its leaders' commitment to strategic stability, their regard for long-established accords against using nuclear weapons, and whether they respect the profound caution that Cold War-era leaders showed with respect to brandishing nuclear weapons," Carter told troops.

He was referring to Russian nuclear exercises and President Vladimir Putin's more strident nuclear rhetoric in recent months.

The Pentagon chief also described North Korea as an emerging nuclear threat.

But he praised China, whose military activities he has frequently criticized, for its nuclear conduct.

China "conducts itself professionally in the nuclear arena despite growing its arsenal in both quality and quantity."

Carter is traveling across the United States this week, highlighting America's nuclear capabilities as well as some of its ailing infrastructure, such as missile silos built in the 1950s.

The Pentagon is pushing ahead with plans to replace or modernize all three legs of its nuclear "triad" -- intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarines and bombers -- at a cost experts estimate will hit $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

The future of America's nuclear force is in the spotlight now more than it has been for years, thanks to Russian aggression along the border with Ukraine, North Korea's push to build a nuclear missile, and remarks by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump suggesting overhauls to longstanding US nuclear policy.

- Minuteman missiles -

America's massive nuclear reinvestment comes despite President Barack Obama's memorable speech in Prague in 2009, when he called for the elimination of nuclear weapons, a call that helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize.

But he also said the United States would maintain a "safe, secure and effective" nuclear arsenal as long as the weapons exist.

"We're now beginning the process of correcting decades of under-investment in nuclear deterrence," Carter said, speaking in an aircraft hangar in front of a B-52 superbomber with six cruise missiles strapped beneath each of its vast wings.

Minot Air Force Base is one of three facilities across windswept rural America that oversee the US fleet of more than 400 Minuteman III ICBMs.

The weapons were first designed in the 1960s and the United States plans to replace them all over the coming two decades with a new missile system so far called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

For Minot, that means its Minuteman missiles will be switched out and numbers reduced slightly under a 2010 deal with Russia.

Minot is also home to several hundred air-launched cruise missiles, each carrying a warhead packing more explosive yield than 10 of the type of bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.

Lithuania said Monday it is in talks to buy Norwegian anti-aircraft missile systems to address the defence gap on NATO's eastern flank, amid concerns over Russia.

The NASAMS medium-range air defence systems, which would be the first such shield in the Baltic states, would cost around 100 million euros ($115 million), defence ministry spokesman Vaidotas Linkus told AFP.

Tensions between the 28-member NATO defence alliance and Russia are running high following Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

Last week, NATO jets were scrambled seven times from its Baltic bases to escort Russian military aircraft over the Baltic sea, according to Lithuania's defence ministry.

NATO agreed in July to deploy four battalions of around 1,000 troops each in the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- and Poland to assuage their fears of Moscow.

Long seen as NATO's Achilles heel, Baltic forces alone would be incapable of resisting a full-scale attack brought on by Russian forces and bolstered by Moscow's overwhelming air superiority.

But experts say that their ability to fend off Moscow until NATO could scramble a broader response is decisive. New air defence capabilities would also make any attack more costly.

"The lack of air defence systems increases the likelihood of a successful snap attack with limited forces. Our military power is important for deterrence," retired colonel Ignas Stankovicius told AFP.

Moscow denies any territorial ambitions and accuses the US-led alliance of destroying Europe's military balance around Russian borders.

Russian bombers flying too close to airliners: Iceland
Reykjavik (AFP) Sept 26, 2016 - Iceland complained Monday that Russian air force bombers have been flying too close to civil airliners, the most recent incident involving a flight from Reykjavik.

The Icelandic foreign ministry said three Tupolev Tu-160 bombers flew between 6,000-9,000 feet (1,800-2,700 metres) below the plane flying from Reykjavik to Stockholm last Thursday.

The ministry told AFP it "has repeatedly objected to unidentified Russian military flights, due to the danger this may pose to passenger flights" and would be doing so again.

But Aleksei Chadisky, spokesman for the Russian ambassador to Reykjavik, said the danger had been exaggerated.

"It is quite understandable that this is how the matter is presented in the local papers. This is an excuse to open the (US) naval base in Keflavik again," he told the Morgunbladid newspaper.

Earlier this year Washington and Reykjavik signed a deal authorising the occasional return of US forces to Iceland -- a NATO member with no military of its own -- amid rising tensions with Moscow,

During World War II, the Keflavik military base was a key US base and it remained important to the NATO alliance during the Cold War.

Its usefulness to the alliance then dwindled over the years, prompting Washington to withdraw its armed forces in 2006.

But in the past two years, the US military has run surveillance missions in NATO airspace operated from Icelandic territory.

"The old Russian bogey is being brought to life again," Chadisky said.

Gudni Sigurdsson, spokesman for the Icelandic Aviation Authority ISAVIA told AFP that airline pilots had been alerted about the problem.

"This is international airspace so nothing illegal was going on," he added.

Other Nordic countries have made similar complaints about Russian military flights in recent years which have switched-off transponders, devices that allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions.

The Icelandic foreign ministry said that, in the latest case, the transponder failed to transmit the plane's altitude and speed.


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