NATO Spending Increase Is an 'Aggressive Anti-Russian' Move 'Without Any Justification,' Russia Claims

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Western nations of ramping up anti-Russian aggression by expanding NATO spending.

Speaking with German newspaper Rheinische Post, Lavrov compared the roughly $1 trillion NATO budget to Russia's $50 billion military budget, and suggested Western nations were being forced to confront a non-existent threat by the U.S.

NATO and Russia moved closer together in the first decade of the 2000s, with the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council to improve cooperation and understanding.

However, the past nine years have seen relations sour. NATO nations have pivoted to face an increasingly belligerent Russia which has supported armed revolts in Ukraine, launched covert assassination efforts in the U.K. and allegedly meddled in elections the world over.

But for Lavrov, the NATO response to Moscow's foreign policy is an overreaction. "Under the pressure from Washington which pursues its own geopolitical goals, NATO countries are conducting aggressive anti-Russian policies," he told Rheinische Post.

"Military spending is increased without any justification," Lavrov claimed, according to state news agency Tass. "In 2018, the U.S. spent over $700 billion on this, while NATO as a whole spent around $1 trillion, while Russia only spent less than $50 billion." NATO figures released in March suggest the alliance's total military spending for 2018 is around $987 billion.

NATO strengthened its military muscle in eastern Europe following Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist conflict still raging in eastern Ukraine. Russia's willingness to send its troops across the border prompted fears among small Baltic states especially that it may seek to do the same there.

The alliance deployed four multinational battalion-size battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on a rotational basis to deter Russian aggression. There have also been discussions about opening a permanent U.S. military base in Poland, which borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad though not Russia proper.

In June, President Donald Trump announced that he would transfer 1,000 U.S. troops from their base in Germany to Poland, though stopped short of committing to a new American base there.

Russia is also nervous about NATO's proposed expansion to include nations such as North Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia. While NATO was designed to establish a unified defense against the Soviet Union, Moscow perceives the alliance as an instrument to intimidate and restrict Russia.

Any suggestion of membership for Russia's neighbors or former satellites is regarded as an existential threat. This is especially true for Georgia, with which Russia fought a brief but bloody war in 2008, and for Ukraine, which has moved closer to NATO since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Lavrov argued that any further expansion—which Russia has warned might lead to war—would be ill-advised. "From the point of view of strengthening NATO's defense potential, the decisions to accept such countries as Montenegro and North Macedonia into its ranks seems absolutely illogical," he said. "This is definitely not what is needed today for maintaining security and stability in Europe."

Tensions between Russia and NATO have also risen amid the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The agreement was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, banning ground-launch nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges from 500 kilometers (310 miles) to 5,500 kilometers (3,417 miles).

This took roughly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles off the front lines. However, Trump said in February he would suspend U.S. compliance with the agreement, accusing Russia of developing missiles that are in violation of the accord. Russia has also announced it will leave the treaty, raising the prospect of a new arms race in Europe.

Indeed, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the BBC in an interview published Wednesday that the West must "be prepared for a world without the INF treaty and with more Russian missiles." He also vowed a "measured, defensive" response if Russia did not re-enter the treaty under the original criteria by an August 2 deadline.

NATO, Russia, military spending, Sergei Lavrov
An Austrian soldier is pictured in a a tank during 'Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017' in Grafenwoehr, near Eschenbach, Germany, on May 12, 2017. CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty