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Russia says reinforcing military on western border to counter NATO

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu (AFP)

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu says the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s growing military build-up in Europe, specially on its eastern frontier with Russia, necessitates a response from Moscow.

"NATO continues building up its military potential in Europe, including in close vicinity to the Russian borders. No doubt, this situation cannot but concern us. We are forced to respond to it," Shoygu said at a ministry board meeting on Friday.

Forming new military divisions and improving the combat composition of the troops in the country’s Western Military District -- one of the army's four operational strategic commands -- have been part of Russia’s countermeasures, the top defense official noted.

The district is headquartered in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg and neighbors the strategic Baltic region, where the 28-member military alliance has been constantly reinforcing its military presence in three former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

A Russian Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft

"We’re constantly improving the combat composition of the Western Military District’s troops. Work continued in 2015 to set up units and military formations, including three divisions," Shoygu stated, adding that the military district will receive over 1,100 pieces of new and upgraded military hardware in the process this year.

Western Military District Commander Andrey Kartapolov had announced earlier that Sukhoi Su-35 advanced fighter jets, various self-propelled howitzers and S-400 anti-missile systems were also slated to be deployed to the region.

The US-led military alliance has been deploying troops and equipment close to Russia’s borders since it suspended all ties with Moscow in April 2014.

Missile systems on Kuril Islands

Elsewhere in his remarks, Shoygu revealed the planned deployment of a range of coastal missile systems on the disputed southern Kuril Islands, over which Japan also claims sovereignty.

"Already this year they will get Bal and Bastion coastal missile systems as well as new-generation Eleron-3 unmanned aerial vehicles," he said.

Russian Bal-E coastal defense system

The Pacific fleet of the Russian navy will also begin a three-month exploration of the islands for a future naval base, he added.

Shikotan, Khabomai, Iturup and Kunashir are the four islands lying between Russia and Japan.

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