A multinational NATO battalion has conducted military drills in Poland amid heightened tensions along the country’s border with Russia’s close ally, Belarus, and US provocations in the Black Sea region.
Troops from Poland, the United States, Britain, Romania, and Croatia took part in the war games held on Thursday at the Orzysz military base located in the northeast of Poland.
Tensions have been mounting in eastern Europe in recent weeks after the European Union accused Belarus of triggering a migrant crisis on its border by flying in thousands of asylum-seekers and pushing them to try to cross into Poland, an accusation Minsk has adamantly dismissed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the West is using the migrant crisis on Belarus-Poland border against Moscow's close ally.
More importantly, Moscow has accused Washington of aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States held military drills in the weekend.
The Russian Defense Ministry said last week that 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.
The Russian president harshly denounced the "provocative" move and said unscheduled NATO drills in the strategic Black Sea region posed a serious challenge for Moscow.
President Putin accused the West on Thursday of escalating the situation in Ukraine by providing Kiev with “lethal modern weapons” and holding drills in the Black Sea region, saying Moscow has been "constantly” raising concerns about the US naval exercises in the strategic region but the West is taking Russia's warnings lightly.
Putin and other top Russian officials have already warned the expansion of NATO activities near Russia’s borders is a "red line" for Moscow. NATO has expressed determination to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following what it claims as Moscow's “annexation” of Crimea and its backing for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since the conflict erupted in Ukraine's eastern region of Donbass between Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014.
The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation. The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty that year and more than 90 percent of the participants in the plebiscite voted in favor of unification.