MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized on Monday the need to strengthen the country’s air defense amid NATO’s military activities near the Russian border.
During a meeting with military officials and weapons manufacturers in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Putin highlighted the stationing of US-led NATO missile defense components in Eastern Europe and the increasingly frequent missions of NATO ships near Russian waters in the Baltic and Black Seas.
“A US warship has already entered the Black Sea and we can see it in the binoculars or the crosshairs of our defense systems,” he said of the USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the 6th Black Sea.
Russia has resented the stationing of US and other NATO ships near its waters as tensions between Moscow and the West plummeted to post-Cold War lows following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014, his support for a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine and other irritants.
Last month, Russia suspended its mission to NATO and ordered the closure of the Alliance’s Moscow office after NATO withdrew the accreditation of eight Russian officials at its Brussels headquarters because they believed they had been secretly working for Russian intelligence .
Moscow has repeatedly raised concerns about the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders, calling it a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also repeatedly accuse each other of dangerous and provocative maneuvers at sea and in the air.
In June, Russia said one of its warships had fired warning shots and a fighter plane dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer Defender in an attempt to evict it from the waters of the Black Sea near the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Britain denied this, insisting that its ship not be shot at and saying it was sailing in Ukrainian waters.
Like most countries in the world, Great Britain recognizes Crimea as part of Ukraine despite Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in 2014.
After the incident, Moscow warned that it would be ready to target invading warships if they fail to heed warnings.
“We must continue to improve our air and space defense system as leading powers have developed potential high-speed impact weapons,” Putin told the appearance of the missile-armed Alliance warships in the Baltic and Black Seas. “
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