Russia's ambassador to NATO accused the U.S. Wednesday of trying to intimidate Moscow by sailing a Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea, and vowed Russia would respond to future incidents with "all necessary measures."
Alexander Grushko spoke following a meeting of the NATO-Russia council in Brussels, the first in nearly two years. The meeting, which involved Grushko and ambassadors from NATO's 28 member states, ran over its allotted time by about 90 minutes, but produced no major breakthroughs.
"It's better to talk than not to talk," Grushko told reporters, before adding that relationships between NATO and Russia would not improve "without real steps on NATO's side to downgrade military activity in the area adjacent to the Russian Federation."
Reuters reported that U.S. ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute pressed Grushko about the April 11 incident in which two Russian Su-24 attack aircraft buzzed the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. The destroyer was conducting flight operations with a Polish helicopter when the jets came within 1,000 yards of the destroyer at a height of 100 feet. The following day, a Russian jet came within just 30 feet of the destroyer.
"We were in international waters," Lute told Grushko before reiterating that the incident had been dangerous, Reuters reported. U.S. officials told Fox News last week that they believed the incident breached a 1972 agreement meant to prevent such near-misses from occurring. Grushko insisted that the Russian aircraft "were acting fully in line" with international agreements
Grushko told reporters the USS Cook's presence in the Baltic was a NATO attempt "to exercise military pressure on Russia", then added, "we will take all necessary measures, precautions, to compensate for these attempts to use military force."
Secretary of State John Kerry said last week that under U.S. rules of engagement, the Cook could have opened fire on the planes. The Russian jets did not appear to be armed at the time.
The NATO-Russia Council was founded in 2002 as a forum for consultations between the former Cold War foes, but before Wednesday, had last met in June 2014, when the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine sent relations with the West into a tailspin.
NATO has suspended practical cooperation with Russia because of the Crimean annexation and what it views as Russia's support for the armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
"NATO and Russia have profound and persistent differences," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the council, told reporters afterward. "Today's meeting didn't change that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.