* General says retaliatory measures needed
* NATO says moves in Eastern Europe are purely defensive
(Adds NATO comment)
MOSCOW May 23 Russia will retaliate against
increased NATO activity near its border, its top general said on
Friday, in the latest sign of tensions with the western alliance
Since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in March, NATO
has moved to reassure its nervous eastern European allies by
stepping up military exercises in the region and temporarily
deploying additional ships and planes.
"NATO's military groupings in the Baltic states, Poland and
Romania are being built up, as well as the military presence of
the bloc in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea," General
Valery Gerasimov, the chief of general staff of the Russian
armed forces, told a defence conference in Moscow.
"The intensity, the operational and combat readiness of the
alliance's troops is being increased near the Russian border. In
these circumstances ... we have to take retaliatory measures."
A NATO spokeswoman said the measures were purely defensive.
Russia has always opposed NATO enlargement in eastern
Europe, a process that has expanded the alliance's membership to
28 nations including three former Soviet republics and a handful
of other ex-Warsaw Pact states once dominated by Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin said last month that his annexation of
Crimea was partly influenced by NATO enlargement.
Russia has concentrated tens of thousands of troops across
the border from eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists
have declared independence from Kiev, but its deputy defence
minister said on Friday they would all be pulled back within
Asked to comment on Gerasimov's remarks, NATO spokeswoman
Oana Lungescu said NATO had taken appropriate measures to
enhance its members' collective security "in light of the new
security situation created by Russia's illegal aggression
"These are defensive measures, fully in line with our
international obligations. NATO's core job is to defend allies
and this is what we are doing," she said.
She said NATO urged Russia to respect its international
commitments, pull back all its forces from close to the Ukraine
border and stop destabilising Ukraine.
The crisis in Ukraine, which holds a presidential election
on Sunday, has left ties between Russia and the Western alliance
at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
NATO last month suspended all practical cooperation with
Russia to protest its absorption of Crimea.
But despite tension over Ukraine, NATO Secretary General
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier this month that the bloc did
not expect to base large numbers of new combat troops in eastern
(Reporting by Thomas Grove, additional reporting by Adrian
Croft in Brussels; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by