- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2018

NATO has recently crossed a “red line” and aggravated relations with Russia by bolstering its air defenses in Eastern Europe, according to Russian officials.

NATO countries are trying to find a balance between defense and dialogue, but they have crossed a red line,” Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday in Moscow.

In the past week, Russian military operatives have conducted ballistic missile and interceptor missile test-launches in response to reports that NATO is conducing a major military build-up along its borders.

“Not only in politics, but also in the field of military development, NATO began resorting to Cold War schemes that should have been left in the past,” Mr. Grushko said.

Relations between the Kremlin and the West have soured dramatically ever since a nerve-agent attack last month on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, in Britain last month — which British intelligence has blamed on Moscow.

Last week, NATO joined a wave of countries and groups expelling Russian diplomats in response to the attacks, expelling seven Russian diplomats. Overall more than 20 countries expelled a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats, including 60 kicked out by the U.S.

Russia denounced the actions as “boorish” and retaliated by expelling a roughly equal number of Western diplomats.

On the NATO defense front — alongside last week’s expulsions — reports also emerged from Warsaw that its officials had agreed to purchase $4.75 billion worth of Patriot missile defense systems from the U.S..

“There is no justification for NATO’s military building up near the borders of Russia,” Mr. Grushko told Pravda on Tuesday.

In Washington on Tuesday, the White House hosted a summit of Baltic states with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite gathering with President Donald Trump to discuss NATO defense-spending obligations, in addition to urging the U.S. to consider bolstering defenses in their countries.

“We will continue to commit 2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product) toward the development of our military capabilities for the purposes of both strengthening NATO’s posture and contributing to international security,” Mr. Vejonis said after meeting Mr. Trump, who provided no details about specific new U.S. military deployments.

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