Russia 'Ready to Respond' If U.S. Opens Military Bases Near Its Border, Official Warns

A Russian official has warned that the country's armed forces are prepared to respond to any new U.S. military bases close to its borders, amid concerns in Moscow over intensified American activity in Eastern Europe.

Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee, told the Rossiya-24 TV channel that the country's armed forces are stronger than they have ever been and ready to respond to American deployments perceived to threaten Russia.

Slutsky was specifically responding to a question about the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty—signed with the U.S. to prevent nuclear proliferation—but he was speaking as the Pentagon approved hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal military aid to Ukraine.

The minister told the TV station, "If you want my own opinion, then no, it is unlikely" that the U.S. would open military bases in Ukraine, state news agency Tass reported. "However, attempts of this kind might take place," he added.

"Let's keep in mind that one way or another, some really talented people from Washington have had these ideas during the presidency of [former Ukrainian President Pyotr] Poroshenko," Slutsky said. "However, this hasn't been done.

"In any case, Russia is ready to respond to such developments. Today, our armed forces are as capable as ever. So not a single hair on any Russian citizen's head would be harmed."

Slutsky's interview came as the Pentagon approved $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, which is still at war with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country. The Department of Defense said the support would include sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, electronic warfare detection systems, night vision and military medical supplies.

Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea and the subsequent fighting in the east of Ukraine prompted a rethink of U.S. and NATO military strategy towards Russia. The transatlantic alliance bolstered its military strength in Eastern Europe, deploying four multinational battalion-size battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on a rotational basis.

There have also been discussions about opening a permanent military base in Poland, which borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, though not Russia proper. Polish leaders have attempted to sweeten the project by promising to name the base "Fort Trump" in honor of the American president.

Last week, the president said he would send 1,000 more U.S. troops to Poland—taken from the 52,000 based in Germany—but stopped short of committing to a new American base there.

Disagreement over the INF Treaty has also raised the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow in Europe. 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 forced the superpower foes to remove roughly 2,700 short- and medium-range missiles from the front lines, eliminating a dangerous element from the Cold War equation.

But President Donald Trump has said the U.S. will leave the INF Treaty, accusing Russia of developing missiles that are in violation of the accord. The Kremlin has denied the allegation. On Tuesday, a bill suspending Russian participation in the treaty was approved by the country's lower house of parliament, Tass reported.

Russia, military, U.S., bases, Europe
This file photo shows Russian T-14 Armata tanks in Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in downtown Moscow, Russia, on May 9, 2019. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty