The Russian military said it has deployed three fighter jets armed with nuclear-capable, Kinzhal hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, a Baltic territory bordering NATO countries Poland and Lithuania.
The move comes amid soaring regional tensions over the invasion of Ukraine and anticipation of two more European countries joining NATO.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said its MiG-31 aircraft are now stationed at the Chkalovsk airfield “as part of the implementation of additional strategic deterrence measures.”
It also warned that the MiGs will be on combat duty around the clock.
Codenamed “Foxhound,” the MiG-31 is a supersonic high altitude interceptor fighter jet that is one of the most capable air-to-air combat aircraft in Russia’s arsenal. MiGs can intercept enemy fighters jets, bombers unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and even low-flying cruise missiles.
The Kh-472M2 Kinzhal (which translates to “Dagger”) is one of multiple “next generation” weapons unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in 2018.
The Kinzhal’s range of 932 to 1242 miles (1,500 to 2,000 km) means it can deliver a conventional or nuclear payload of 1,058 pounds (480kg) to any European country other than Iceland.
“Despite Russia’s claims about the Kinzhal and its development of other ‘next generation’ systems, many experts in the West say the significance Russia ascribes to these weapons is exaggerated,” according to a report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
Though Russia has reportedly used this weapon to hit multiple targets in Ukraine, the United Kingdom downplayed the significance of the weapon, stating it was “likely intended to detract from a lack of progress in Russia’s ground campaign” and “unlikely to materially affect the outcome of Russia’s campaign” in Ukraine.
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 21 March 2022
Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/uzFLpim2nq
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) March 21, 2022
“The events in Ukraine demonstrated that a clash with the collective West is a real possibility,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechayev said.
“Russia as a nuclear power will continue to act with maximum responsibility” and “the Russian military doctrine envisages a nuclear response only in retaliation to an aggression involving weapons of mass destruction or in a situation when the very existence of the state comes under threat,” he told reporters at the briefing. “We proceed from the assumption that the U.S. and NATO are aware where their aggressive anti-Russian rhetoric with an emphasis on a possible use of nuclear weapons can lead to.”
Kaliningrad’s location has made it a strategic priority, with Moscow arming it with air defense systems and other state-of-the-art weapons.