NATO has announced new plans to beef up its presence in the Black Sea, in a move almost certain to draw Russian ire.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement in a briefing for reporters after a ministerial meeting of the military bloc at its headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.
During the meeting, he said, member states "agreed on two additional maritime measures: an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea for enhanced training, exercises and situational awareness, and a maritime coordination function for our Standing Naval Forces when operating with other Allied forces in the Black Sea region.”
Stoltenberg said NATO will be enhancing its military forces in the strategically important sea, where a Russian naval fleet is based; however, he claimed the move "will in no way aim at provoking any conflict or escalating tensions.”
Speaking earlier on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said NATO was damaging global peace and security by continuously trying to "drag” Moscow into a military confrontation.
Putin told senior members of the Russian intelligence agency FSB that global security "has not improved, but on the contrary, many existing threats have only become more serious” as a result of NATO’s moves.
NATO’s "newly-declared official mission to deter Russia” is one such threat, Putin said, apparently referring to the bloc’s recent buildup of military forces near Russian borders. "In fact, they are constantly provoking us, trying to drag us into a confrontation.”
NATO members "are continuing their efforts to interfere in our domestic affairs with the goal of destabilizing social and political order in Russia proper,” he added.
Russia and NATO have been at loggerheads over Moscow’s alleged role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
The Western military alliance severed its ties with Russia in 2014 after the then-Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum to join Russia, Presstv reported.
Since then, NATO has deployed extra troops and military hardware closer to Russian borders to exert pressure on Moscow, brandishing what it says are threats of Russian aggression.
Russia has pledged to take unspecified measures to respond to the increased activities of NATO.