MOSCOW: Nato’s four-month-long military exercises near Russia’s borders, known as Steadfast Defender, are proof the alliance is preparing for a potential conflict with Russia, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, dismissed accusations by Nato this week that Russia is engaged in hybrid attacks on its member states, saying this was misleading “misinformation” aimed at distracting people from the alliance’s activities. It was Nato that had waged a hybrid war with Russia by supporting Ukraine with arms, intelligence and finances, she said in a statement.

“Right now, Nato’s largest exercise since the Cold War, Steadfast Defender, is taking place near Russia’s borders. According to their scenario, coalition’s actions against Russia are being practiced using all the instruments, including hybrid and conventional weapons,” she said in a statement.

Kremlin says it shot down four US-made long-range missiles over Crimea

“We have to admit that Nato is seriously preparing for a ‘potential conflict’ with us.” Relations between Russia and the West have been at their most hostile in decades following the start of Russia’s military conflict in Ukraine in 2022.

Nato’s largest drills

Announcing the start of the drills in January, Nato said 90,000 troops would take part, rehearsing how US troops could reinforce European allies in countries bordering Russia and on the alliance’s eastern flank if a conflict were to flare up. The drills, Nato’s largest exercise since the Cold War, are set to run through May.

Russia said at the time the drills marked an “irrevocable return” of the alliance to Cold War schemes.

US-made missiles

The Russian defence ministry said on Saturday its air defence forces shot down four US-produced long-range missiles over the Crimea peninsular, weapons known as Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) that Washington has shipped to Ukraine in recent weeks.

The ministry said later that Russian aircraft and air defence systems had downed a total of 15 ATACMS in the past week.

On Tuesday, Russian officials said Ukraine had attacked Crimea with ATACMS in an attempt to pierce Russian air defences of the annexed peninsula but that six had been shot down.

A US official said in Washington last month that the United States secretly shipped long-range missiles to Ukraine in recent weeks.

The ATACMS missiles, with a range of up to 300 km (190 miles) were used for the first time in the early hours of April 17, launched against a Russian airfield in Crimea that was about 165 km from the Ukrainian front lines, the official said.

The Pentagon initially opposed the long-range missile deployment, concerned that taking the missiles from the American stockpile would hurt US military readiness.

There were also concerns that Ukraine would use them to attack targets deep inside Russia, a step which could lead to an escalation of the war towards a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2024

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