European countries concerned about Russian war games on their borders are simply "inclined to being scared," according to a top Russia diplomat.
Andrei Denisov, Russia's ambassador to China, said that the international leaders should regard joint Russia-China naval drills in the Baltic Sea as a "novelty" and an opportunity for the Chinese navy to take "a long-distance cruise." The exercises, which are taking place in two phases over the summer, contributed to NATO's decision to bolster their deployments to eastern Europe in recent months.
"Those who are scared off are inclined to being scared," Denisov said Friday on Kremlin-run media. "The main thing is that rules concerning such events should be respected."
Russia has a history of violating the rules that govern military exercises, according to western officials. Under international agreements, nations conducting military exercises are supposed to provide 42 days' advance notice and invite international observers to monitor war games that exceed a certain size. But Russia surprised the West in 2013 with exercises that included as many as 90,000 troops, despite announcing that only 12,500 would be involved, and has continued to mobilize tens of thousands of forces in ensuing games.
"Every nation has the right to exercise its forces, the important thing is that this is done in a predictable, transparent way," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. "We expect Russia to follow those obligations, they haven't done that so far but we expect them to adhere to the international obligations related to transparency and international inspections of the Zapad exercise. NATO is transparent when it comes to our exercises. We are not mirroring exactly what Russia is doing but we are responding to a more assertive Russia."
Russia's war games in 2013 are particularly notable because "various tactical aspects lent themselves to Russia's subsequent interventions both in Crimea and Syria," according to a national security expert writing in the National Interest.
Denisov made his comments the same day that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov predicted that NATO is "doomed to failure" because it lacks "a reason for existence." And Lavrov portrayed Russia as being willing to follow international rules, provided that those rules reflect a "renewed world order" in which the United States is not the sole superpower.
"Today, we are all participants of an objective process of forming a polycentric world order," Lavrov said Friday. "We are invariably open to working with everyone who shows willingness to effectively address key issues of global development. This our approach — in favor of collective multilateral efforts to strengthen security and establish broad-based equitable mutually beneficial cooperation — is shared by most members of the international community."
U.S. relations with Russia have soured in recent years, however. The Obama administration criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for holding corrupt elections, while prominent U.S. lawmakers have accused Putin of having his domestic critics murdered. And Russia's annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine provoked economic sanctions, which President Trump's team has vowed will remain in place until Russia withdraws.
"We do want to better our relations with Russia; however, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in her first speech at the U.N. Security Council. "Eastern Ukraine, of course, is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia's aggressive actions. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine."