COPENHAGEN - Russia's ambassador to Denmark said Saturday that the Nato country's navy could be targeted by nuclear missiles if it joins the Western alliance's anti-missile shield.

The threat made by Ambassador Mikhail Vanin in an opinion piece he wrote for the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten sparked an angry reaction and came amid an increasingly Cold War-style standoff between Moscow and the West. "I do not think that the Danes fully understand the consequences of what happens if Denmark joins the US-led missile defence," Ambassador Mikhail Vanin wrote in the daily.

"If this happens Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles." Russia has long opposed NATO's missile shield -- launched in 2010 and due to be fully operational by 2025 -- in which member countries contribute radar and weaponry to protect Europe against missile attacks.

Denmark has pledged to supply one or more frigates equipped with advanced radar to track incoming missiles. The chairwoman of the Danish parliament's foreign affairs, Mette Gjerskov told AFP that the comments were "very threatening and not necessary" as the missile shield was simply an "intruder alarm" and no danger to Russia.

"This is a way of escalating the verbal tone between Russia and NATO," she said, adding that the comments were also aimed at Russian public opinion. "But it doesn't change the fact that we're not afraid." Denmark's Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said the remarks were "unacceptable rhetoric" and "completely out of proportion".

"One should not threaten such serious things as the ambassador has done here," he told news agency Ritzau. Tensions between Russia and the Nordic countries have risen in recent years with reports of increased Russian airforce incursions in the Baltic region. Holger K. Nielsen, defence spokesman for the Socialist People's Party, which is opposed to Denmark's involvement in the NATO shield, called the ambassador's comments "crazy".

"His opinion is based on the assumption that a war has broken out and in that case Denmark, as a member of NATO, would already be a target," he told Jyllands-Posten. NATO's European missile defence system is headquartered in Ramstein Germany since 2012. It includes US missile destroying warships in Spain, Patriot anti-missile systems in Turkey, ship borne radar systems carried by several member countries and planned missile interceptors in Romania. Moreover, Russian security forces said on Saturday that they had killed seven suspected terrorists in an operation in Russia's North Caucasus region of Dagestan which has been plagued by an Islamist insurgency. Security forces launched a special operation after receiving information that men linked to criminal groups were in a building in the capital Makhatchkala, the National Anti-Terror Committee (NAK) said.

Russian news agencies quoted it as saying that "seven neutralised bandits were found" in the building. The men belonged to a terrorist group behind attacks against the police and had been extorting money from local businesses to fund their terrorist activities, the statement said.

The Kremlin is fighting a deadly insurgency against Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus, with unrest particularly intense in the largely Muslim Dagestan. Armed incidents and attacks against the authorities and security forces are particularly common in the restive, mountainous region neighbouring Chechnya. Moscow has fought two wars against separatists in Chechnya, and the violence subsequently spread throughout the predominantly Muslim region.

Moreover, - Russia appealed to Germany and France on Saturday to ensure Kiev does not try to incite violence in east Ukraine to encourage the United States to send Ukrainian forces lethal weapons. Paris and Berlin helped mediate a peace deal in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12 to try to end fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine but the truce remains fragile. In an interview with Russian television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was concerned Kiev might stage "provocations" to try to persuade theUnited States that it should aid Kiev by sending it lethal weapons.

"Provocateurs in Kiev could try to 'whip something up' in the expectation that this will influence the world public and weapons will flow into Ukraine," he told the new programme Vesti on Saturday with Sergei Brilev. "I am convinced that Berlin and Paris, as the most important players, should prevent such a turn of events."

Lavrov also repeated Russia's opposition to United Nations peacekeepers being sent to the east. The United States has been considering whether to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine but has taken no decision on this yet. Kiev accuses Moscow of not carrying out the terms of the Minsk agreements. It and the West say Russia backs the separatists in east Ukraine with weapons and troops but Moscow denies this.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in almost one year of fighting in the east. The truce there is fragile, with Moscow and Kiev clashing publicly over who is to blame for the failure to carry out all the steps outlined in the Minsk agreements. The European Union and the United States have imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, which has caused the worst strains in relations between the West and Moscow since the end of the Cold War. EU leaders decided on Thursday that the sanctions would stay in place until the peace deal is fully implemented, effectively extending them to the end of the year if need be.