Russian ambassador: NATO reinforcements would mean 'new arms race'

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Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Latvia Aleksandr Veshnyakov warned Friday that any arrival of fresh NATO forces in the region could trigger a "new arms race" between Russia and the West.

Speaking on the Domskaya Ploschad show on Latvian Radio's dedicated Russian-language channel, Veshnyakov said: "Hypothetically speaking, if we assume that there will be a decision on the establishment of new bases on Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian territory, it will mean a new phase in the arms race, which will prompt appropriate action from Russia."

NATO bases "on our doorstep" would pose a clear threat to Russian security, Veshnyakov asserted, adding that extra cause for concern would come from the fact that they would be "controlled not by the Latvian government, but by people tens of thousands of kilometers from Latvia," by which he presumably meant the United States.

"Latvian residents would become hostages of this policy, and I would not want to be in their place," Veshnyakov said.

Veshnyakov's words come hot on the heels of a visit to Riga on August 18 by German chancellor Angela Merkel in which she failed to back calls from the Baltic states for the establishment of new military bases in the region.

In his comments, Veshnyakov praised Merkel's "moderate" stance, saying she had failed to fall into the trap of Russophobia.

While underlining her support for the improving of military infrastructure in the Baltics and Germany's commitment to NATO's Article 5 guarantee of mutual assistance in case of an attack, she shied away from the idea of new bases and foreign troops on Baltic soil.

"We won't have a permanent stationing of combat troops but we will boost our participation in other ways," Merkel said during a press conference in Riga in a statement that disappointed many of those worried by Russia's aggressive actions in eastern Ukraine which have prompted attempts by the Latvian Defense Ministry to drum up support in the US and elsewhere for new bases.

A decision about what form of extra protection will be given to the Baltic states is due to be taken at a NATO summit in Wales on September 4-5, with the odds looking increasingly likely that some form of "rotation" of troops on ongoing "training exercises" will be implemented rather than the establishment of permanent bases.

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