Russia's foreign minister has accused NATO, and Europe more broadly, of stoking tensions on the continent, as he called on leaders to "abandon the phantom of the Russian threat."
Speaking on February 15 at the Munich Security Conference, Sergei Lavrov made no mention of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, where a nearly six-year conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed fighters has killed more than 13,000 people.
The war in eastern Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula led to Western sanctions, Russia being kicked out of the Council of Europe, and other punitive measures.
Lavrov suggested NATO was to blame for tensions with Russia, including the increased deployment in recent years of more Western military hardware and forces in the Baltic states and Poland.
"The crisis of confidence is felt particularly acutely in European affairs," said Lavrov. "The stoking of tension, the advance of NATO's military infrastructure to the East, military exercises of unprecedented scale near Russia's borders, increase of defense budgets beyond every measure; this all generates uncertainty."
"Before it's too late, you should abandon the phantom of the Russian threat…remember what unites us," he added.
Last year, the Council of Europe voted to restore Russia's participation in the organization.
Earlier on February 15, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a plea for continuing help from European nations in the ongoing conflict with Russia.
"This is not a war in our country, but a war in Europe,” Zelenskiy said. “So, we are grateful to all of you, but all of you are defending yourselves."
Lavrov Accuses NATO, Europe Of Stoking Tensions