By M. Alex Johnson, Staff Writer, NBC News
Russia confirmed Monday that it has deployed a state-of-the-art missile system closer to Lithuania and Poland, a move the U.S. and NATO foreign ministers warned could destabilize the region.
"Missile troops and artillery units of the Western Military District are in fact armed with Iskander operational and tactical missile systems," Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry,told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, confirming reports by the German newspaper Bild.
The Western Military District includes the region of Kaliningrad, which borders Lithuania and Poland.
Iskander, a high-speed, mobile ballistic missile system with a range up to 300 miles, was introduced in 2006. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the system is vital to balancing the development of a NATO missile defense for Europe.
In February, Col.-Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said all Russian missile brigades would be armed with Iskander systems by 2020.
Western officials called the deployment revealed Monday worrisome.
"Further militarization of this region, bordering the Baltic states and NATO, creates further anxiety, and we will be watching situation there closely," Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told reporters Monday, according to The Associated Press.
At a briefing in Washington, Marie Herf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Washington had "shared with Russia the concerns that countries in the neighborhood have."
"We've urged Moscow to take no steps to destabilize the region," she said. "We've made that point with them."
But Konashenkov insisted that the deployment doesn't "run counter to international agreements."
And the Russian broadsheet Izvestia quoted Viktor Zavarzin, deputy head of the defense committee of the lower house of Parliament, as saying: "We aren't threatening anyone. These are defensive systems."