Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab probed Russia's deployment of Bal and Bastion missiles to Kaliningrad and the Kuril Islands, Uatoday reports.
On November 21, a source at the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that Russia had deployed Bastion missile launchers to Kaliningrad, an enclave bordering two NATO members, Lithuania and Poland. On November 22, at the other end of Russia, Bal missile launchers were reportedly deployed to the southernmost Kuril island, Kunashir, while Bastion launchers were deployed to the next island north in the chain, Iturup.
The Bastion launchers fire supersonic Oniks cruise missiles, which are designed to be used against surface ships, but can also be used against ground targets. According to the website of the Oniks' constructor, NPO Mashinostroeniya, the range of the export variant is 300km, the weight of the warhead is 200 kg, and it is suitable for use against large vessels including landing ships and carrier battle groups.
The Bal anti-ship system, meanwhile, has a range of 130km, according to its manufacturer Tactical Missile Weaponry Corporation (Корпорация "Тактическое ракетное вооружение"). The weight of the warhead is 145kg, and it is advertised as being suitable for use against smaller vessels: "rocket, torpedo and artillery cutters, surface ships with a displacement of up to 5000 tons, and surface transports."
Bastion launchers were first used in combat in Syria in mid-November. A 23-second video showing Bastion launchers in action in Syria was posted on RT's Youtube channel on November 15:There is a significant difference between the deployments to the Kurils and Kaliningrad. The Far Eastern deployment was signalled well in advance - Shoigu told TASS as early as March 2016 that Bastion and Bal launchers, along with Eleron-3 drones, would be deployed to the Kuril Islands as part of a planned re-armament.The first reports of a possible deployment to Kaliningrad, however, only appeared in the Russian media at the end of October, after the DFRLab exposed the covert deployment of two Russian corvettes armed with “Kalibr” cruise missiles to the Baltic.
It is possible that the decision to deploy the Bastion and Bal systems to the Baltic was a quick one, with no time for preparation. However, given the Kremlin’s poor record on transparency (witness the Kalibr deployment), it is equally possible that the decision was taken well in advance, and the announcement delayed to forestall diplomatic fallout.
On November 21, the US state department criticized the deployment and said it was "destabilizing to Russian security." State Department's spokesperson added: "We call on Russia to refrain from words or deeds that are inconsistent with the goal of promoting security and stability."