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US using political pressure to draw Balkans into its orbit: Russia

Andrey Kelin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of European Cooperation (DEC) | Youtube snapshot

The United States is using political pressure to draw the Balkan states into NATO, Moscow is concerned about such attempts, Andrey Kelin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of European Cooperation (DEC) said.

According to Sputnik news, Kelin said Washington's key efforts were at present "aimed at fully mastering the western Balkans, and, after Montenegro, to draw other countries into its orbit too."

"We do not perceive this calmly, because any wave of NATO expansion, especially under the conditions of poor relations that currently exist, is an additional factor complicating European security," he said.

Commenting on the mid-November Pentagon statement that it had approved the $10.5 billion sale of Patriot missile defense systems to Poland planned to be delivered in 2019, Kelin noted that Moscow would take appropriate measures in response.

"We previously offered NATO some kinds of cooperation in the missile defense sphere that could remove this negative effect, but all our attempts and all our proposals were rejected. So we will certainly not just simply take this into account in our defense planning, but we will also take appropriate measures that will restore stability in Europe," Kelin said.

The Russian official pointed at Finland and Sweden engaging in close cooperation with NATO, adding that Moscow was monitoring this situation. However, the senior diplomat mentioned that the situation in the airspace over the Baltic region has calmed down.

The senior diplomat noted that Stockholm had confirmed during recent consultations that the situation over the Baltic airspace has become less tense.

NATO decided to boost its presence in the Baltic region as part of its strategy to increase its eastern flank capabilities during the 2016 summit in Warsaw.

The diplomat also touched upon NATO's concerns over the September Russian-Belarusian Zapad-2017 drills.

"Why do our Western partners worry, when they carry out large-scale drills themselves? For sure, it does not contribute to stability. We are convinced that in order to ensure predictability we have to exchange information on our drills and we are doing this via the NATO-Russia Council (NRC)," Kelin said.

The Western states repeatedly raised concerns with regard to the joint drills, saying that the Russian troops, deployed in Belarus for the military exercises, were likely to stay in the country afterward, which was repeatedly refuted by Russia. Moscow confirmed that all Russian servicemen who had taken part in the drills left Belarus after the event.