By Elena Teslova
MOSCOW (AA) - NATO's "targeted provocations" near Russia’s borders are highly likely to escalate into an armed conflict, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said Monday.
NATO’s expansion eastward dates back to the time when Russia had good relations with the alliance, Fomin said at a briefing for foreign military attaches to Russia.
"Recently, the alliance has switched to the practice of direct provocations, which are associated with a high risk of escalating into an armed confrontation," he said.
He recalled that in 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland -- former Soviet allies under the Warsaw Treaty Organization -- joined the organization.
Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia followed their example in 2004, "seriously raising" NATO's military advantages, he said.
Specifically, the borders of the bloc have moved more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) eastward, allowing for the opportunity to use non-strategic weapons to hit targets on Russian territory, Fomin said.
Also, NATO increased its combat capabilities by acquiring a large number of weapons, military equipment and military personnel of the new member countries as well as access to their infrastructure and ports on the Black and Baltic seas, which expanded the possibilities for the deployment and transfer of troops, he added.
Controversies began arising from the events in Yugoslavia, breaking Russia and NATO apart, and ended up with NATO's defining Russia as "a source of threats" to its security in the alliance's 2019 military strategy, Fomin noted.
Despite this, Russia has been taking steps aimed at de-escalating the situation, but they have been ignored, he said.
Moscow handed NATO proposals to maintain high-level contacts, exchange information regarding terrorist threats, refrain from holding military exercises near each other's borders, and to sign an agreement on avoiding air accidents, Fomin said.
It also invited the alliance's representatives to observe its International Army Games, he said.
NATO, on the contrary, has ignored Russia's initiatives while stepping up its military activities near the country, with the alliance’s member countries in 2021 alone carrying out more than 1,200 air and 50 naval reconnaissance missions near Russia’s borders and holding over 20 military drills, he said.
"The alliance's continuation of a confrontational course towards our country forces us to rigidly put before NATO the issue of legally binding security guarantees for Russia, which would exclude any further advance of the bloc to the east and the deployment of threatening weapons systems in the immediate vicinity of our borders," Fomin said.
He recalled that the relevant draft agreement was handed to Washington and Brussels and that Moscow "looks forward to a serious, constructive conversation."