Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed "provocative" US-led exercises in the Black Sea for “increased tensions” between Moscow and NATO.
In a phone call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday, Putin "drew attention to the provocative nature of the large scale exercises led by the United States and its allies in the Black Sea which are increasing tensions between Russia and NATO," the Kremlin said in a statement.
Both leaders expressed "dissatisfaction" with what Moscow called a "worsening" situation in eastern Ukraine, the statement added.
The comments came after some Western countries expressed concern over Russia’s military activities near Ukraine.
Last week, Russia’s defense ministry said the US is setting up a multinational group of armed forces close to Russia's eastern border in the Black Sea region.
The ministry said the US Navy's guided missile destroyer Porter, tanker vessel John Lenthall, and command ship Mount Whitney were deployed to the Black Sea to take part in multinational drills conducted by the US’ European Command.
In separate remarks, Putin said last week that Kremlin considered recent Black Sea exercises by the US and other NATO ships as a serious challenge, adding that Russia’s defense ministry "had a proposal to hold its own unplanned exercises in the same waters."
"But I believe that this is inappropriate and there is no need to further escalate the situation," he was quoted as saying by Russia’s state television.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since conflict erupted in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region between the Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014.
The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim have blamed Moscow for the conflict, but Moscow has strongly rejected the allegations.
According to the Elysee, Macron told Putin on Monday that France was ready to defend Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, amid buildup of troops near Russia’s frontier with Ukraine.
French president’s remarks come while Moscow has repeatedly denied the reports, which were first published in US-based media outlets.
On Thursday, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky also stressed that Moscow has no plans to invade Ukraine, but warned against any provocations from the neighboring country.
According to an adviser to Macron, the 1 hour and 45 minute call, which was initiated by the French president, sought to put an end to the migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border as hundreds of asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East, try to enter the central European country from Belarus.
He said Putin and Macron agreed on the need for de-escalation of the crisis, even though the two sides disagreed on the origins of the crisis.
The European Union claims that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has encouraged the migrant flow in retaliation for existing sanctions imposed by the bloc on Belarus, but Lukashenko has denied the allegations.