by Shi Hao
MOSCOW, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Russia concentrated its fire on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and blasted the military bloc for being a trouble maker during the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) that ended Thursday.
At the two-day event, Russia's top military officials said NATO's military expansion in Europe and interference in Middle Eastern affairs will only undermine security and stability there.
As a de facto response to the West-dominated Munich Security Conference, the annual MCIS serves as an opportunity for Russia and its partners to air their positions on global and regional issues and lash back over various Western accusations.
The MCIS this year was held at a time when Russia and the United States failed to mend their ties as many had expected after U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January.
CONFRONTATION IN EUROPE
"Europe is gradually turning from the most stable and low-militarized region to a zone of heightened tensions and confrontation," said Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov at the conference.
He said NATO accuses Russia of being the main source of military threats, while the U.S.-led alliance itself is increasing the scale of military activities in countries near Russia, such as the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
NATO's eastward expansion and deployment of a missile defense system in Europe break the balance of power in the region and increase the risk of military incidents, Gerasimov said.
In a latest move, the Pentagon deployed a small number of state-of-the-art F-35 fighters to Estonia, Russia's neighbor, earlier this week.
In addition, the Ukrainian crisis is expected to distance Russia and NATO further. Also this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed the bloc's strong support for Ukraine and encouraged Kiev to go further with reforms to strengthen its defense forces.
"The relations between Russia and NATO are at their lowest level since the end of the Cold War," Gerasimov said at the MCIS.
Earlier this month, Trump expressed a similar regret when he told the visiting Stoltenberg that the United States is "not getting along with Russia at all" and the relations between the two countries "may be at an all-time low."
If Russia-NATO conflicts persist and the alliance keeps expanding and practicing large-scale military activities on its eastern flank, Gerasimov said Russia will be forced to respond adequately and carry out necessary deterrence measures.
CONFLICTS IN SYRIA
The recent toxic gassing incident in Syria has sharply intensified the chronic spats between Washington and Moscow, a firm supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On April 7, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against Syria's Sharyat military airfield in Homs province, after the West accused Damascus of gassing civilians on April 4 in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.
But the Russian Defense Ministry said the deadly intoxication was possibly caused by the explosion of chemical weapons produced and stored by the rebels in a local depot during a raid by the Syrian Air Force.
At the MCIS, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said: "We regard the U.S. missile attacks as a serious violation of international law. They also threatened the lives of our servicemen conducting fights against terrorism in Syria."
Following the missile strikes, Russia suspended the memorandum of understanding on air safety in Syria it had signed with the United States in 2015.
Russia also vetoed a United Nations resolution drafted by the United States, Britain and France demanding the Syrian military provide UN investigators with unfettered access to details of their operations on the day of the alleged gassing attack.
"For a long time, Russia made attempts to establish cooperation on Syria with the United States and its coalition. However, it has been not possible to achieve a full understanding so far," Shoigu said at the conference.