Putin Says Russia Must Strengthen Its Military as NATO Inches Closer

In response, NATO says it is no match for Moscow deployments

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto following their meeting in Sochi, Russia August 22, 2018.
\ POOL/ REUTERS

NATO is moving its military infrastructure closer to the Russian border and Russia needs to strengthen its own infrastructure in response, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday. 

He spoke at a news conference after talks with Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto. 

Putin also said NATO was refusing to discuss rules for military flights with Russia. 

Just today, two British Royal Air Force Typhoon jets were scrambled from Romania to investigate suspected Russian fighter aircraft operating near NATO airspace over the Black Sea. 

Responding to the remarks, NATO rebutted Putin's suggestion that the alliance's forces in eastern Europe posed a threat to Russia, saying they were no match for Moscow deployments. 

"NATO's actions are defensive, proportionate and fully in line with our international commitments," the alliance's spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in an email to Reuters. 

"NATO has deployed 4,000 troops to the eastern part of the Alliance - to deter any possible aggression. These troops cannot compare to the divisions deployed by Russia. In contrast, Russia has troops in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova against the wishes of their governments." 

It also contradicted Putin's claim that the Western military alliance was refusing to discuss rules for military flights with Russia, saying aviation was an issue in various joint military forums. 

"As to the point on aviation, we have discussed Baltic air safety in the NATO-Russia Council," she said. 

In the same speech, Putin also condemned U.S. sanctions against Russia as counter-productive, but said a summit he had held last month with U.S. President Donald Trump had still been useful.

Putin said he hoped Washington would realize that its policy of imposing sanctions on Moscow for its perceived misbehavior was misguided.

“As for sanctions, these actions are counter-productive and pointless, especially towards a country like Russia,” Putin told reporters in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“I hope that our American partners will realize that this policy has no future at some point and we can start cooperating in a normal way.”

Putin was speaking on a day when the rouble weakened towards its lowest level in more than two years as traders priced in the risk of more U.S. sanctions and a new tranche of sanctions announced earlier this month was expected to take effect.

Despite the sanctions, Putin said a summit with Trump in Helsinki last month had been useful and praised the benefits of direct dialogue.

Putin also said Europe needed the Moscow-backed Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project, an initiative that Trump has harshly criticized, and that Russia was the most suitable supplier of energy for Europe.