Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia does not intend to become a NATO member, as the Russian navy conducts military drills in the Black Sea off the shores of Crimea, and the US-led alliance holds military exercises in Ukraine.
Lavrov made the comment before a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“Don’t try your luck. Russia is not going to join NATO,” Lavrov told reporters before the behind-closed-doors meeting with the NATO chief, quipping that Brussels might attempt to convince Moscow to become a member of the military bloc.
After the conclusion of the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement, saying that Lavrov and Stoltenberg discussed the current state of Russia-NATO relations.
“The Russian side firmly drew attention to our concrete proposals on de-escalation of tensions and reduction of tensions at the contact line,” it said.
Earlier this year, Stoltenberg said that he had proposed a face-to-face meeting between NATO and Russian officials.
“The ball is now in Russia's court. I would like to invite Russia again to participate in a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as soon as possible. We have a lot to discuss that is in the common interest of NATO and Russia,” Stoltenberg said during an interview with German television channel Welt.
The NATO chief also said at the time that the two sides needed to exchange information on military maneuvers “in order to prevent misunderstanding and possible escalation,” among other issues.
Rival drills in Black Sea, Ukraine
On Thursday, Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement that the Russian Navy practiced firing at targets in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea.
According to the statement, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet practiced detecting and destroying sea targets with its Bastion coastal missile defense system, an advanced mobile anti-ship, and surface-to-surface defense system.
Video footage released by the ministry showed divisions carrying out strikes with truck-mounted missiles.
The statement further said Russian troops fired from concealed positions and employed drones to track a simulated enemy group of vessels.
According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the system can hit sea targets at a distance of 350 kilometers and ground targets at a distance of 450 kilometers.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops held joint military drills with US forces in Ukraine. The exercises in the European country, involving American and other NATO troops, are scheduled to run until October 1.
Earlier this month, Russia and Belarus also held massive military drills.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia have been deteriorating since 2014, when the then Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The US and the European Union-backed Kiev refused to recognize the referendum results, later imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Ukraine as well as the EU and the US claim Russia has a hand in an ongoing conflict that erupted in the Donbass region of Ukraine between government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014. The West imposed sanctions on Russia after accusing it of interfering in the conflict. Moscow denies the allegation.