U.S. Creates 'Additional Tensions' by Flying Nuclear-Capable Bombers Near Russia, Kremlin Says

Russia has accused the United States of escalating tensions by flying nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers close to its borders.

"I will limit myself to only saying that such actions by the United States do not lead to a strengthening of an atmosphere of security and stability in the region that directly adjoins Russia's borders," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday, according to The Moscow Times. "On the contrary, they create additional tensions."

Earlier on Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry told members of the media that it had sent two Sukhoi-27 jets to scramble an American B-52 bomber flying over the international waters of the Baltic Sea. "After the strategic bomber B-52H changed course to move away from the Russian state border the jets returned to base," the ministry said in a statement, Russia's Tass news agency reported.

Several B-52 strategic bombers were sent from the U.S. to the United Kingdom this month, according to a report by Poland's Warsaw Institute think tank. A couple of the aircraft have been sent on maneuvers over the Baltic Sea, with one reportedly coming within just 160 miles of Russian territory last week. That plane even conducted a mock strike on a Russian naval base, according to the think tank's report.

"The bombers are supposed to operate in Europe and the North Atlantic due to an increased presence of Russian naval vessels and aircraft; they will take part in military drills held jointly with the local U.S. forces and NATO allies," the institute explained.

Overall tensions between Russia and the U.S., as well as its NATO allies, have remained high in recent years, particularly since Moscow's disputed move to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russian-backed separatist rebels remain embroiled in a military conflict with Ukrainian forces.

At the beginning of February, President Donald Trump's administration also announced it would formally withdraw from the decades-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, accusing Russia of violating the agreement's terms. Signed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and former President Ronald Reagan in 1987, the treaty mutually banned all ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of about 300 to 3,500 miles. The Kremlin has pushed back, arguing that the U.S. violated the terms.

NATO has backed the U.S. in its decision to withdraw from the INF agreement, but Moscow has claimed neither Washington nor its allies have provided evidence of its violations. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of lying "without even blushing," saying that he "failed to present a single piece of evidence of the alleged INF Treaty violations," Tass reported.

Top Russian officials have warned repeatedly of the potential fallout from the agreement's collapse, suggesting that Europe and the U.S. could be targeted. Last month, President Vladimir Putin said that his country "will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used… against the decision-making centers that are behind the missile systems which threaten us."