Moscow: Russia on Tuesday warned the United States to ensure its warships stayed well away from Crimea "for their own good", calling their deployment in the Black Sea a provocation designed to test Russian nerves.
Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and two U.S.
warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week amid an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine where government forces have battled Russian-backed troops in a conflict Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
The deployment comes as the West sounds the alarm over what it says is a big and unexplained build-up of Russian forces close to Ukraine's eastern border and in Crimea. Russia has said it moves its forces around as it sees fit, including for defensive purposes.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was cited by Russian news agencies on Tuesday as warning US warships in the Black Sea to keep their distance, saying the risk of unspecified incidents was very high.
"There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action.
Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength, playing on our nerves. They will not succeed," Ryabkov was cited as saying.
"We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good." The Pentagon has declined to discuss the ships' deployment, saying only that the US military routinely sends vessels to the region.
Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea and it has powerful missile and radar facilities on the peninsula.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia on Tuesday to withdraw troops that the alliance says Moscow is massing on Ukraine's borders, ahead of an emergency meeting of allied foreign and defence ministers.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba flew to Brussels for talks with Stoltenberg a day after Kyiv accused the Kremlin of ignoring its request for talks between the two countries' presidents over a build-up of Russian troops near its border.
"In recent weeks Russia has moved thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine's borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014," Stoltenberg said.
"Russia must end this military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and deescalate immediately," he said at a news conference with Kuleba. Kuleba said Kyiv wanted a diplomatic solution.