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Russia in ‘direct confrontation’ with NATO

The Kremlin says NATO and its military infrastructure is moving towards Russian borders as the US-led alliance marks its 75th anniversary.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, speaks with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, center left, during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. Photo: AP

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, center, speaks with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, center left, during a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. Photo: AP

NATO’s successive waves of eastern enlargement are a fixation of President Vladimir Putin, who went to war in Ukraine two years ago with the stated aim of preventing the alliance coming closer to Russia’s borders.

Instead, the war has galvanised NATO, which has expanded again with the entry of Finland and Sweden.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “In fact, relations have now slipped to the level of direct confrontation.”

NATO was “already involved in the conflict surrounding Ukraine (and) continues to move towards our borders and expand its military infrastructure towards our borders”, he said on Thursday.

Putin has repeatedly said Russia was cheated by the West in the aftermath of the Cold War as Moscow’s Warsaw Pact alliance was disbanded but NATO moved eastwards by taking in former pact members and the three Baltic states that had been part of the Soviet Union.

The West rejects that version, saying NATO is a defensive alliance and joining it was a democratic choice by countries that had shaken off decades of Communist rule.

NATO says it is helping Ukraine fight for its survival in the face of Russian aggression, and has provided Kyiv with advanced weapons, training and intelligence.

Russia says that makes NATO de facto a party to the conflict. Putin said in February that a direct conflict between Russia and NATO would mean the planet was one step away from World War III.

It comes as Finland extends the closure of land border crossings with Russia and add several ports to a list where travel from its eastern neighbour is prohibited, accusing it of weaponising migration.

Finland shut its land borders with Russia late last year amid a growing number of arrivals from countries including Syria and Somalia.

“Finnish authorities see this as a long-term situation. We have not seen anything this spring that would lead us to conclude that the situation has changed meaningfully,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in a statement.

The government had said in February that the border closure was set to last until April 14.

Finland annoyed Russia last year by abandoning its long-held stance of military non-alignment and joining the NATO alliance in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Nordic country has also signed a bilateral defence pact with the United States.

Despite the border closure, a few asylum seekers have continued to arrive from Russia and the government believes the numbers could rise significantly with the advent of the northern hemisphere spring and a rise in temperatures.

“There are hundreds and possibly thousands of people close to Finland’s border on the Russian side that could be instrumentalised against Finland,” Rantanen said.

By “instrumentalised,” he was referring to the alleged steering of migrants to the frontier by Russia to raise pressure on Finland and the wider European Union over their political and military support for Ukraine.

Last month, the Finnish government floated plans for temporary legislation that would allow border authorities to block asylum seekers seeking to enter from Russia.

The government said it had decided to close three ports to leisure boating – on the Baltic Sea islands of Santio and Haapasaari, as well as at Nuijamaa on the banks of an inland lake shared by the two countries – to prevent “instrumentalised” migration from spreading as spring sets in.

“This would be dangerous to people seeking to enter Finland and would burden maritime search and rescue (operations),” the ministry said in a statement.

The Finnish border authority has said that more than 1300 asylum seekers from countries including Yemen, Somalia and Syria entered from Russia between August and December last year.

Prior to this period, the numbers had averaged just one person a day.

– AAP

Topics: NATO, russia
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