Russian Bombers
Russian Air Force Su-34 fighter-bombers take part in a military parade during celebrations marking Belarus Independence Day in Minsk, July 3, 2014. Reuters

Russia will extend its long-range bomber patrol missions into the Gulf of Mexico, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday. The announcement marks the latest escalation in tensions between Russia and the West.

“In the current situation we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico,” the statement said, according to the Associated Press. Russia’s bombers will also patrol north of its territory over the Arctic Ocean.

Similar bomber patrols were conducted over the Atlantic and Pacific until the end of the Cold War, when Russia was forced to curtail its military budget. President Vladimir Putin reinstituted the patrols.

The statement was released hours after NATO’s top commander, U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, accused Russia of military aggression in Ukraine in recent days. “Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops,” were seen in the war-torn Eastern European nation, he said, according to the BBC.

"As to their intent, I'm not sure. My strategic team believes that there is a possibility that, as you know, this pocket of separatist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces in the east of Ukraine - it's not a very contiguous pocket. There are lines of communications that are interrupted. There are airports that are not held by the Russian-backed forces, etc.,” Breedlove said. “And so it is our first guess that these forces will go in to make this a more contiguous, more whole and capable pocket of land in order to then hold on to it long term.”

A Russian Defense Ministry official, Gen.-Maj. Igor Konashenkov, denied Wednesday that the military was present in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports. He said “there was and is no evidence” to back up NATO’s accusation.