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Iran Press TV

NATO planning to extend military presence in Mediterranean region

Iran Press TV

Thu May 5, 2016 5:12AM

The secretary general of NATO says the Western military alliance is planning to extend its military presence in the Mediterranean region, in a plan certain to deepen Russian concerns.

Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement Wednesday during a joint news conference with NATO's new Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti in the Belgian town of Mons.

"We are working on establishing a broader security presence...which can make sure that we are able to have freedom of navigation, which can have many different kinds of surveillance, monitoring, many different kinds of tasks," he said.

NATO warships have been patrolling the Aegean Sea since February to allegedly help Turkey and Greece suppress criminal networks trafficking refugees into Europe.

The alliance says its vessels have also been involved in the monitoring of the Turkey-Syria border for people smugglers.

Scaparrotti, who succeeded US Air Force General Philip Breedlove as NATO's top military commander, said he would adopt a tough line on Russia, similar to his predecessor.

Russia has long complained that NATO – a Russian adversary since the days of the Cold War – is moving east-ward toward Russian borders, and deems such a development a threat to its security.

Relations between Russia and NATO soured after the Crimean Peninsula separated from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation following a referendum in March 2014.

The military alliance ended all practical cooperation with Russia over the ensuing crisis in Ukraine in April 2014.

The US-led NATO accuses Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine. Moscow, however, rejects having a hand in the Ukrainian crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently voiced his country's concerns regarding NATO's expansion.

"NATO military infrastructure is inching closer and closer to Russia's borders. But when Russia takes action to ensure its security, we are told that Russia is engaging in dangerous maneuvers near NATO borders," he said.

Tensions have seen an uptick in recent months. Earlier this month, the US guided-missile destroyer USS Cook sailed close to a Russian naval base in the Baltic Sea, prompting the scrambling of Russian jets, which buzzed the ship and in turn elicited American complaints.

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