Speaking at the Bemowo Piskie training area in northeastern Poland, about 80 km from the border with the Russia's Kaliningrad Region on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Moscow of seeking to dominate the European continent.
"Thirty years ago, almost exactly, I was patrolling the Iron Curtain in Germany as a young cavalry officer," Pompeo recalled. "In my day, our generals were concerned about a Soviet offensive through the Fulda Gap. Today, the gap in which we stand occupies the same priority focus for NATO commanders that the Fulda Gap did back then, once again because of Russian aggression," he said.
Moscow, Pompeo claimed, "has grand designs of dominating Europe and reasserting its influence on the world stage."
"Vladimir Putin seeks to splinter the NATO alliance, weaken the United States, and disrupt Western democracies," Pompeo added, citing alleged Russian "hybrid warfare operations" and NATO efforts to "counter Russian lawlessness and destabilising activity."
Later Wednesday, Pompeo travelled to Warsaw for a two day Middle East Summit, a gathering of officials from about a dozen countries including Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UK which Pompeo earlier said would be about confronting Iran's "destabilizing influence" in the Middle East. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blasted the planned meeting as an "anti-Iran circus," while Russia said it offered a "simplified unilateral approach" to the Middle East's problems.
Tensions between Russia and the West escalated in 2014 after a US- and EU-sponsored coup d'état in Kiev prompted Crimea to break off from Ukraine and rejoin Russia after a secession referendum, with a civil war breaking out in eastern Ukraine which Brussels and Washington blamed on Moscow. In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, the US and its allies slapped Russia with several rounds of sanctions, while NATO expanded its military presence in Eastern Europe and along Russia's borders to levels unseen since the Cold War.
Last week, Washington scrapped its commitment to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a 1987 arms control deal aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear war in Europe. Pompeo spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week, telling him that the US planned to hit Russia with more sanctions over the Kremlin's alleged involvement in the poisoning of foreign intelligence officer Sergei Skripal last March.
Lavrov said the "shady history" surrounding the Skripal case was just a pretext based on "completely unproven" claims. The two sides did not discuss arms control, according to the Russian foreign minister.