Nato and the Kremlin have traded accusations over the Russian deployment of state-of-the-art missiles in its Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.
Nato on Tuesday accused Russia of “assertive military posturing”, while Vladimir Putin shot back that Russia was merely responding to Nato aggression.
The rhetoric comes as Europe waits with trepidation to see how a Donald Trump presidency will affect the continent’s security arrangements. Trump said in an interview during his election campaign he would be willing to tell Nato allies, “Congratulations, you will be defending yourself” if he felt they were not contributing enough financially to the alliance.
The UK prime minister, Theresa May, is due to meet Nato’s secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at Downing Street on Wednesday and is expected to say he must persuade European countries to meet the Nato commitment to spend 2% of national income on defence.
The European parliament on Tuesday voted 369 to 255 in favour of a plan to deepen defence coordination between member states, in part prompted by Trump’s words.
“Our union is not equipped to face overwhelming defence challenges,” said MEP Urmas Paet, a former foreign minister of Estonia who drafted the resolution. “Europe continues to rely heavily on Nato capabilities and on US solidarity.”
Trump also described Nato as obsolete during the campaign and suggested a military alliance with Russia over Syria could be possible, something which has been cautiously welcomed in Moscow and greeted with horror in many European capitals, particularly in the three Baltic nations, which share a border with Russia.
The Russian military has reportedly stationed Bastion anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, a piece of Russian territory between Poland and Lithuania, while a senator, Viktor Ozerov, said on Monday that Russia would deploy Iskander ballistic missiles and S-400 missile-defence systems in Kaliningrad.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Tuesday that moving the missiles to Kaliningrad was a logical response to a hostile west: “Russia is doing everything necessary to ensure its security in the face of expansion by Nato towards its borders. The alliance really is an aggressive bloc, therefore Russia must do everything it can, and in this case it has the sovereign right to take necessary measures across its whole territory.”
Peskov declined to answer whether the systems were already in place and whether they would be based in Kaliningrad permanently. Russia said last October that it was moving the Iskander missiles into the exclave for a training drill.
Russia has long expressed displeasure with the idea of a US missile defence system in Europe, and on Monday, Putin even raised the possibility that it could carry out preventive strikes against such infrastructure.
“When a country becomes a Nato member, it’s very difficult for it to resist pressure from such a big country leading Nato, the US. And then you can get whatever they want there: missile defence systems, or new bases, and, if required, new missile systems.
“What should we do? Well in this case we should take counter measures, to use our missile systems to hit those targets that have started to threaten us. The situation is worrying,” said Putin, during an interview in a documentary film about Ukraine directed by Oliver Stone and broadcast on Russian television on Monday.
Asked whether May and Stoltenberg would discuss Trump’s approach to Nato when they met on Wednesday, the prime minister’s deputy official spokesman said: “Part of the discussion will clearly centre on Nato funding and 2% pledge but it will be a wide-ranging conversation on Nato issues.”
“On the issue of 2%, clearly we have been driving this issue since we hosted the Nato summit in Wales a few years ago. We are clear in our view that other countries should do the same and we have seen some countries move towards it. We are clear we think that 2% commitment is important.”
Additional reporting by Rowena Mason
• This article was amended on 23 November 2016. Nato accused Russia of “assertive” military posturing, not “aggressive” military posturing as an earlier version said.