Russia says bolstering forces to counter NATO
Russia's defence minister said Wednesday that Moscow will set up three new divisions in the west and south of the country by the end of the year to counter NATO forces close to its border.
"The defence ministry is taking a range of measures with the aim of countering the build-up of NATO forces in close proximity to Russia's borders," Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
"By the end of the year two new divisions will be established in the western military district and one in the southern military district."
Relations between NATO and Russia have deteriorated since Moscow annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine and eastern European countries are worried that they too might be targets of Russian aggression.
In response, NATO has deployed additional military resources on its eastern flank. At its previous summit in 2014, the alliance decided to reinforce its presence along the Russian border, angering Moscow.
Russia -- which first announced the creation of the new divisions in January -- has consistently accused the US-led military alliance of trying to contain it ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union opened up the former Eastern Bloc.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday insisted that the alliance's increased presence in the Baltic was a response to Moscow's own aggressive behaviour in eastern Ukraine, where it is accused of fuelling a separatist insurgency against a new pro-Western government in Kiev.
"We didn't have any troops in Baltic countries... before the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia's destabilising activities in eastern Ukraine," he told journalists in Belgium while presenting the alliance's new Europe commander General Curtis Scaparrotti.
"So what we do is defensive, it's proportionate, and it's fully in line with our international obligations," Stoltenberg added.
Scaparrotti said he intended to continue the "force posture" of his predecessor, General Philip Breedlove, towards Russia.
Relations further worsened over Moscow's air campaign in Syria and tensions have flared in the past month after incidents involving the US military and Russian planes in the Baltic Sea.
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter warned Tuesday that NATO would defend its allies against Russian "aggression" as he presided over the passing of the alliance's European command to General Scaparrotti.
NATO member Estonia's defence ministry said the same day that Russian military planes regularly violate the ex-Soviet state's military airspace, describing such behaviour as "incredibly reckless".
© 2016 AFP