In recent weeks Russian officials called out the presence of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels near the Russian Federation's borders, while also expressing "concern" over NATO deployments in Europe. Last week Russian state media expressed that the latest unease came by what was described as "clear anti-Russian U.S." plans to increase its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
"We are concerned by Washington's plans to boost its military forces in Eastern Mediterranean, because [those plans] clearly have anti-Russian nature, reflect the aggressive policy of the United States and, generally speaking, run counter to promoting peace and security in this region," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters, according to Tass.
Zakharova's comments follow U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo's visit to Greece on September 27-28. Pompeo was there to sign an agreement with a NATO partner on further cooperation and technology that would aim at boosting investment and encouraging the development of strategic dialog between the two partners.
The top U.S. diplomat also visited the U.S. military base at Souda Bay in Crete. It was only a year ago that the United States and Greece agreed to amend a previous agreement cooperation dating back to 1990. According to the document, the U.S. military would reinforce the base on the Greek island, but also deploy additional troops to the Larissa airbase, the army aviation base in Stefanovikio (Magnesia Prefecture) and the port of Alexandroupoli in northeastern Greece.
Conflict Amongst Allies
Pompeo's visit to the region also came amid increased tensions between Greece and Turkey, which has primarily involved maritime disputes over oil, natural gas and other resources under the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has been putting its 50-year view on maritime rights into practice through its Blue Homeland Doctrine, growing its naval and commercial presence in Mediterranean waters that it claims are part of its exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
However, it appears that Athens and Ankara have been waiting to resume talks on the continental shelf disputes, and Pompeo has said the U.S. strongly supports dialog. The U.S. Navy's newest expeditionary sea base at Souda Bay on Crete could be enough to help convince Turkey to maintain the peace, but it could remain a concern for Russia – which would no doubt like to see the tension the of two NATO states to continue.
Moscow Eyeing the North
It isn't just the potential increase in U.S. forces in Greece that has caught the attention of Moscow, but also NATO's increased presence to its north. Zakharova singled out last month's Arctic military exercise that included naval forces from the UK's Royal Navy, the U.S. Navy and the Norwegian Navy along with cooperation from the Danish Air Force.
The NATO partners were conducting freedom of shipping exercise in neutral waters, but officials in the Kremlin saw it as another aggressive move near Russia's borders.
"We are certain that such activities and, in general, NATO's growing military presence in the high latitudes by no means promotes peace and stability in the Arctic, but on the contrary escalates tensions in the region," Zakharova told state media.
Moscow has suggested that London has preferred to focus on military and political aspects when it came to the Arctic region rather than taking a more constructive approach, despite Great Britain's status as an observer in the Arctic Council.
"In 2018, Britain was the first non-Arctic country to declare a national Arctic military strategy," Zakharova added. "British forces have regularly participated in NATO's exercises in the high latitudes. We believe that if the British side paid attention not so much to build up its military potential as to expanding opportunities for constructive cooperation in the Arctic, this would better match the goal of strengthening peace and stability in this region."
In May, warships from the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet along with one vessel from the Royal Navy entered the Barents Sea of Russia's northwestern Arctic coast for the first time since the Cold War, and over the summer NATO had increased its presence in the region. Russia has seen the region as exclusively as its own, which is why the region has been seen as becoming akin to the next South China Sea with territorial disputes over the potential mineral-rich waters.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.