NATO ambassadors told Russia to put a halt to its "malign activities" in Europe and elsewhere as the sides met at a time of high geopolitical tensions between East and West.
Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said on Twitter on May 31 that the Western alliance sent a "strong, unified message to Russia: Stop interfering in Ukraine & cease malign activities that seek to divide our Alliance."
NATO and Russian officials were meeting in the first NATO-Russia Council of 2018 in Brussels. An alliance official said before the talks that they would focus on NATO's twin-track approach combining a strong defense posture with "meaningful dialogue" with Russia.
Along with the stern message, NATO ambassadors also briefed their Russian counterparts on a huge military maneuver involving 40,000 troops scheduled for Norway in October.
The NATO war games, called Trident Juncture, will include a live exercise in and around the Scandinavian country, involving some 70 ships and 130 aircraft. It will also include a command-post exercise, mostly in Italy.
NATO officials said the briefing on the maneuvers was intended to ease tensions between the alliance and Moscow and to reduce the risk of inadvertent military encounters.
“The dialogue between NATO and Russia contributes to more predictable relations and enhanced mutual security," the alliance said.
Russia and the West have clashed in recent months regarding the war in Syria and the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain, among other matters.
Most recently, NATO demanded that Russia accept responsibility for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, an incident in which 298 civilians of multiple nationalities were killed.
NATO suspended practical cooperation with Moscow in 2014 in response to its aggression in Ukraine, where Russia seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea region and has supported separatists in the eastern part of the country in a bloody war.
For two years, ambassadors and ministers did not meet, until the NATO-Russia Council was revived in 2016. The last meeting was in October 2017.