News / Europe

    Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in Eastern Europe

    Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europei
    Daniel Schearf
    February 12, 2016 12:00 PM
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Daniel Schearf

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Friday with the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich, after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military buildup in Europe since the Cold War.

    Russia's TASS state news agency quoted Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov as confirming that during the meeting, Lavrov expressed concern about the Western military alliance's plans to strengthen its presence on Russia's borders.

    Earlier Friday, Russian news agencies quoted Meshkov as saying that Lavrov and Stoltenberg discussed holding a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council, but agreed that the agenda for the meeting still needs to be worked out.

    NATO said on its website Friday that Stoltenberg and Lavrov "reviewed NATO-Russia relations and agreed to continue exploring the possibility of a NATO-Russia Council meeting."

    The United States is planning to quadruple military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion in 2017 as NATO increases troops on rotation and training, stockpiles military hardware and arms, and forms a rapid reaction force.

    Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. The military alliance says the news plans are aimed at reassuring eastern European allies concerned about Russian aggression. 

    Russia's military went on high alert and held snap drills in central and southern Russia near Ukraine as NATO defense ministers gathered in Brussels this week to hammer out steps to defend the Baltics and Eastern Europe.

    "NATO defense ministers agreed on an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance,” said Stoltenberg. “This will be multinational, to make clear that an attack against one ally is an attack against all allies, and that the alliance as a whole will respond."

    FILE - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the media at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Nov. 24, 2015.
    FILE - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses the media at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Nov. 24, 2015.

    Russian state media described the NATO plan as saber-rattling. 

    Russia's Foreign Ministry called it a design to contain Russia and a threat to Europe. 

    "We do not understand what triggered those actions,” said spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “We believe that they threaten not Russia itself but the strategic stability and security expected to prevail in Europe."

    Russia’s envoy to NATO promised a military-technical response to the alliance's increased presence in Europe.

    But Russian political analysts say they are not worried about a renewed arms race as NATO acts as a deterrent and poses little threat to nuclear-armed Russia. 

    “I think the expansion of NATO itself is more a geopolitical challenge to Russia because, this means the expansion of the U.S.-led alliance, zone of influence,” said Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dmitri Trenin. “Russians would say a zone of security. Others would say a zone of protection.”

    Cynical Russians see the threat label as mutually beneficial to military budgets.  "It's the mirror image for the Russian authorities,” said construction director Yakov Zaichik. “Now, the Russian authorities will use the situation to expand their forces, gain some experience, and for their election benefits.”

    But most Russians echo the official line repeated on state television. 

    "I think the encroachment of a border is always a threat,” said engineer Yury Semonov. “Russia's not moving in on anybody's borders."

    NATO limited relations with Moscow after Russian forces annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and began supporting pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine. 

    Russia's military posturing and probing of its neighbors since has increased concerns about its intentions.  NATO says Russian military jets have been turning off their transponders, skirting borders, and coming dangerously close to other airplanes.  Moscow denies any aggression. 

    FILE - Servicemen load air-to-ground missiles onto a Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighter during a drill at the Russian southern Stavropol region, March 12, 2015.
    FILE - Servicemen load air-to-ground missiles onto a Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighter during a drill at the Russian southern Stavropol region, March 12, 2015.

    NATO is reinstituting ambassador-level talks at the NATO-Russia Council, which was frozen in 2014, to increase transparency and prevent misunderstandings.

    "It's something which we have used only sporadically and allies believe that it's a right time to perhaps try again,” said the Brussels-based Acting Head of the NATO Information Office in Moscow Robert Pszczel.  “But, it does not mean a return full cooperation at this stage and it does not mean that we are establishing a new institution,” he added.

    Tensions between Russia and NATO are not expected to ease until there is substantial progress on implementing Ukraine’s peace deal, the Minsk agreement. 

    “The sooner the Ukrainian crisis will be settled, the better,” said Retired Lieutenant-General Evgeny Buzhinsky at the Russian Center for Policy Studies. “That's the core of our disagreements and actually the basis of, I do (am) not afraid to use the word, confrontation.”

    In the most serious incident since the Cold War, jets of NATO member Turkey in November shot down a Russian military plane along its border with Syria.  Ankara says the Russian bomber ignored warnings and, as in previous incidents, crossed over the Turkish border.  Moscow denied the bomber left Syrian airspace and called the downing a planned provocation.

    NATO said Russia's continued air strikes in Syria since September in support of the Syrian government are undermining peace efforts, a charge Russia rejects.

    In a sign of progress in Syria, Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced a cease-fire and humanitarian aid plan Thursday to take effect within a week.

    Mark Grinberg contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    by: Oleh from: CA
    February 13, 2016 12:43 AM
    Only force will stop Russia's aggression against Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, and other countries.

    by: Anthony Clifton
    February 12, 2016 11:30 AM
    Nobody is going to invade Russia, a nation with 7000 nuclear weapons are they? Russian paranoia and fear showing its face yet again

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 12, 2016 11:17 AM
    Russia without borders must be contained by the threat of overwhelming military force. There is no other way to cage the bear. It is not safe when wild animals invade areas where human beings live. Russia's geopolitical perspective where spheres of influence and control over what it calls its "near abroad" are incompatible with the 21st century. Each nation is an individual sovereign entity with a right to pursue its own policies as its people see fit.

    Russia lies when it said it did not invade Ukraine, Georgia, and views Transnistria with hungry eyes. They are no threat to it. By contrast Afghanistan which hosted al Qaeda and Iraq under Saddam Hussein were proven threats to the region and the world. American military action was entirely justified. It will also be justified wherever IS and al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups find a space to grow their cancer. Iran is a menace that will likely have to be dealt with by force too. The US has a similar situation in East Asia containing China without borders and the lunatic who rules North Korea.
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    February 13, 2016 10:54 AM
    Igor, your leaders should know and understand this. Some of our leaders and others have read Russian history and know it has been invaded countless times. We know the psychology of wanting a geographical sphere of influence on its borders in what it calls the near abroad as a buffer to land invasion. No NATO country is ever going to invade Russia. However, should Russia try in a NATO country what it did in Ukraine, it's World War III. It will be repelled by whatever force it takes up to and including global thermonuclear war. This is the essence of the NATO alliance and treaty. The increase in NATO activity is just a reminder of that fact.

    Russian leaders should be far more concerned about Islamic terrorist infiltrators especially through the Caucuses and the five former Central Asian Soviet Republics. It should be worried about China whose teeming population is crowded into an increasingly uninhabitable land they destroyed themselves. It should be worried about its badly failing economy and its self instigated isolation from other technologically advanced nations it cannot keep up with or participate with. Vladimir Putin is not advancing Russia's real interests, he is destroying them for the sake of his 19th century illusion of an empire he cannot have and would be of no value if he could. He is dangerous and insane. He's put Russia on a course to ruin.
    In Response

    by: Igor from: Russia
    February 12, 2016 11:13 PM
    You must bear in your mind that through out history, Russia have been invaded so many times by countries such as Poland, German, France, Sweden, Turkey....because of its vast land and rich resources. As to the US, it has invaded more than 19 countries: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Panama, China, Mexico, Russia, Germany, Austria, Japan, the Phillipines, Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Libya, Grenada, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan...
    So Russia is the real victim of invaders. But now the West should not repeat their mistake by invading Russia one more time because that means the end of your existence.

    by: Anthony Pagagallo from: Madrid
    February 12, 2016 6:54 AM
    Russia has been invaded by Nations coveting her mineral riches more times in the last one thousand years than any other country on earth. taken in that context you can hardly blame them for imagining the Nato armies currently massing on her western border is anything else but an invasion force.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    February 12, 2016 10:12 AM
    Hey Anthony _ NATO has become a non-military ground war factor anymore, because it would take months for NATO to assemble any type of a realistic fighting army to fight anybody anymore, [but], Russia has to fear and missiles with nuclear warheads on their borders, [but], those NATO countries having nuclear missiles pointing at Russia must also fear the Russian nuclear missiles aimed at them? .. The chill of another cold war is beginning, isn't it? .. Think about it? .. Does a western president want to start a nuclear war? .. and why?

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