Putin tells Macron US leading 'provocative' exercises in Black Sea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said US-led military exercises in the Black Sea were to blame for increased tensions in the region. (AFP/Mikhail Metzel, Mikhail METZEL)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Monday that "provocative" US-led exercises in the Black Sea were "increasing tensions" between Moscow and NATO, the Kremlin said.

Both leaders expressed "dissatisfaction" with what Moscow called a "worsening" situation in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin statement said.

Putin "drew attention to the provocative nature of the large scale exercises led by the United States and its allies in the Black Sea which are increasing tensions between Russia and NATO," the Kremlin said.

Putin's comments came after Western countries raised alarm over Russian military activities near Ukraine.

According to the Elysee, Macron told Putin that France was ready to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Last week, Putin said the Kremlin considered recent Black Sea exercises by the US and other NATO ships as a serious challenge.

He told state television that Russia's defence ministry "had a proposal to hold its own unplanned exercises in the same waters."

"But I believe that this is inappropriate and there is no need to further escalate the situation," he said.

Putin seemingly referred to several US warships taking part in exercises in the Black Sea which Moscow has said it was "monitoring."

According to the Kremlin statement, Putin also criticised Ukraine for the "recent use" of drones in its conflict with pro-Russia rebels.

Last month, Kiev released footage of what it said was its first use of the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar drone against separatists.

Putin said this violates peace agreements signed in Minsk in 2015.

In Washington, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby rejected the criticism of US maneuvers, and said Russian military activity near Ukraine "remains concerning to us."

Kirby said the United States is open about its military exercises, issuing press statements with details and photographs of them.

"All our exercises are defensive in nature, and they are in keeping with our alliances and partner commitments in the region," he said.

"There's been no transparency from the Russian side about this concentration of forces in the western part of their country."

US top diplomat Antony Blinken warned Moscow last week against making another "serious mistake" on Ukraine as Washington sought clarity about troop movements near the border.

The EU has said it was also concerned by Russian military activities close to the border.

The 27-nation bloc said it was monitoring the situation with partners, including the US and Britain.

The accusations come amid rising tensions between the EU and Moscow over a migrant stand-off on the border between Poland and Kremlin-allied Belarus.

In 2014, Moscow annexed Kiev's Crimea peninsula and since then Ukraine has fought a conflict with pro-Russia rebels in the east of the country. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives.

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