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NATO-Russia Council Holds First Session This Year As Tension Persists


Russian Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aleksei Meshkov

BRUSSELS -- Ambassadors from NATO nations and Russia gathered at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels for the first NATO-Russia Council session of 2017.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the talks on March 30 would focus on issues including the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the security situation in Afghanistan, and the "regional terrorist threat."

Amid persistent tension between NATO and Russia, Stoltenberg said another focus would be "military activities, transparency, and risk reduction."

He said the diplomats would have "reciprocal briefings on our military postures," discussing the deployment of three new divisions in western Russia and "the four battle groups that we are in the process of deploying in the Baltic countries and Poland.”

Stoltenberg described the talks as "an important step toward more predictability, more transparency, which is especially in need now when we have increased military activity along our borders."

State-run Russian news agency TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksei Meshkov as saying Moscow plans to discuss "NATO's military buildup along our borders."

NATO has deployed thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry to Poland, the Baltic states, and southeastern Europe, moving to provide extra security and reassurances to members close to Russia following its aggression in Ukraine.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and backs separatists in a war against government forces that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since that April.

Russia has also caused concern among NATO nations with snap military exercises in its Western regions and by buzzing the alliance's ships and aircraft with fighter jets, as well as the aggressive use of propaganda.

NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia after Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, but political channels remain open via the NATO-Russia Council, which held three similar gatherings last year.

The March 30 meeting comes a day before a meeting of the 28-nation alliance’s foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.