NATO drills show it is preparing for potential conflict with Russia, Moscow says

FILE PHOTO: Wet gap crossing at NATO Dragon-24, part of the Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise, in Korzeniewo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO's four-month long military exercises near Russia's borders, known as Steadfast Defender, are proof the alliance is preparing for a potential conflict with Russia, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, dismissed accusations by NATO this week that Russia is engaged in hybrid attacks on its member states, saying this was misleading "misinformation" aimed at distracting people from the alliance's activities.

It was NATO that had waged a hybrid war with Russia by supporting Ukraine with arms, intelligence and finances, she said in a statement.

"Right now, NATO's largest exercise since the Cold War, Steadfast Defender, is taking place near Russia's borders. According to their scenario, coalition's actions against Russia are being practiced using all the instruments, including hybrid and conventional weapons," she said in a statement.

"We have to admit that NATO is seriously preparing for a 'potential conflict' with us."

Relations between Russia and the West have been at their most hostile in decades following the start of Russia's military conflict in Ukraine in 2022.

Announcing the start of the drills in January, NATO said 90,000 troops would take part, rehearsing how U.S. troops could reinforce European allies in countries bordering Russia and on the alliance's eastern flank if a conflict were to flare up. The drills, NATO's largest exercise since the Cold War, are set to run through May.

Russia said at the time the drills marked an "irrevocable return" of the alliance to Cold War schemes.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Frances Kerry)