The Russian military has said it deployed warplanes armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to the country’s Kaliningrad region, in close proximity to European Union member states and NATO assets.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said three MiG-31 fighters with Kinzhal hypersonic missiles arrived at the Chkalovsk airbase as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence” and will be placed on “round-the-clock combat duty”.
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A video released by the ministry on Thursday showed the fighters arriving at the base but not carrying the missiles, which were apparently delivered separately.
The deployment of Kinzhal missiles comes amid soaring tensions with the West over Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which is nearing the sixth-month mark.
The Russian exclave located between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast has been at the forefront of Moscow’s efforts to counter what it described as NATO’s hostile policies.
Moscow has strongly criticised the deliveries of Western weapons to Ukraine, accusing the United States and its allies of fuelling the conflict.
In turn, it has methodically bolstered its military forces in Kaliningrad, arming them with state-of-the-art weapons, including precision-guided Iskander missiles and an array of air defence systems.
The Russian military said the Kinzhal has a range of up to 2,000km (about 1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who unveiled the Kinzhal missile in 2018, termed it “an ideal weapon” that is extremely difficult to intercept.
Kaliningrad became a flashpoint in June after Lithuania moved to limit goods transit to the region through its territory, with Russia promising retaliation. The EU, however, said Lithuania must allow Russian goods to transit with the exception of weapons.
Russia’s westernmost state was part of Germany until the end of World War II, when it was given to the Soviet Union at the Potsdam Conference in 1945. It has roughly one million residents, mainly Russians but also a small number of Ukrainians, Poles and Lithuanians.
The exact number of soldiers stationed there is unknown; estimates range from 9,000 to up to 200,000 military personnel.
Earlier on Thursday, Finland’s Defence Ministry said that two Russian MiG-31 jets were suspected of violating its airspace near the city of Porvoo, on the Gulf of Finland 150km (about 90 miles) from Russia.