MOSCOW, March 20 (UPI) -- A planned U.S. military exercise near Russia's border has prompted harsh condemnation from Moscow.
The U.S. military maneuver, set to begin Saturday, will involve a convoy of 120 U.S. Army Strykers. Over ten days, the eight-wheel-drive combat vehicles will stop in a different border area community each night to showcase the ability of U.S. forces to transport troops quickly, and to assure Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland of NATO's commitment.
Such an exercise, Russia's foreign ministry said Friday, undermines the Russia-NATO Founding Act. "According to our estimates, in case of the deployment of U.S. armour on the permanent basis on NATO's eastern flank in the mentioned amounts there will emerge solid reasons for calling in question the alliance's compliance with these liabilities."
"Washington is encouraging Kiev to pursue a military solution," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed Friday, accusing the U.S. of undermining a cease-fire agreement.
The ministry further warned that it hopes Europe "does see the risk of unconditionally following advice from U.S. generals and will not opt for approaches that will rule out the risk of a slide towards a military confrontation between Russia and NATO."
While the U.S. Army acknowledges the convoy's movement is "a highly visible demonstration of U.S. commitment to its NATO allies," Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, insists "the focus should be on what is the desired end state, and can we get there using diplomatic and economic pressure and support."
The European Union took additional steps late Thursday to bolster economic sanctions against Russia. "Leaders decided to align our sanctions regime to the implementation of the Minsk agreements brokered by Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande," European Council President Donald Tusk announced after the council's first session.
Moscow responded Friday with a warning. "The Russian Federation will do what meets its national interests with regard to retaliatory steps," presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, allowing for the possibility of counter-sanctions.