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Putin, Russian Security Council Discuss Baltic Airspace

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has chaired a meeting with the country's Security Council to discuss possible "confidence-building" steps in the skies over the Baltic region and details in connection with a NATO summit later this week, a presidential spokesman said.

Putin also talked with the council's permanent members about the situation in Syria, where Russia has been waging a campaign of aerial bombardment in support of embattled ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Moscow says is also targeting "international terrorists."

Western governments have accused Russia's military of courting possible disaster over the past two years over the Baltic Sea and elsewhere with increasingly bold and risky aerial maneuvers in close proximity to NATO and commercial flights.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Security Council meeting participants "discussed the international problems, in particular, [and] exchanged views on the issues related to confidence building in the skies over the Baltic region, following up upon the conversation between Putin and [Finnish President] Sauli Niinisto that has recently been held in Finland."

Tensions in Central and Eastern Europe have been high since Russian troops invaded Ukraine to seize Crimea in early 2014, and NATO and Kyiv say Russia continues to support and arm separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Both NATO and Moscow have announced increases in troop presences on their respective sides of Russia's border with the West.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg confirmed on July 4 that the alliance would hold formal talks with Russia on July 13, shortly after a July 8-9 summit in Warsaw.

The NATO-Russia Council last met in April following a two-year hiatus characterized by mounting mistrust, but those talks were said to have ended in "profound disagreements" over Ukraine and other topics.

This week's NATO summit is expected to deepen tensions with Moscow.

Spokesman Peskov said that while Moscow welcomed a recent "positive" report on the importance of a resumed NATO-Russia dialogue despite disagreements, Moscow "cannot understand wording such as 'annexation of Crimea' and...the assertion regarding southeastern Ukraine is another incorrect interpretation and incorrect wording."

He said NATO enlargement was "definitely further proof of the aggressive nature of that organization."

Putin has already hinted, after a meeting with Niinisto on July 1, that Russia would position more troops on its border with Finland if that country joined NATO. Nonmember Finland regularly participates in NATO exercises.

"The NATO-Russia Council has an important role to play as a forum for dialogue" and could "increase predictability," Stoltenberg told reporters. "That is why we are working with Russia to hold another meeting of the council shortly after the summit."

The Warsaw summit is expected to discuss the deployment of four 1,000-strong battalions in Poland and the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Peskov did not elaborate on the Russian Security Council's discussion of events in Syria, where a devastating 4 1/2-year conflict has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced more than 11 million more.

Based on reporting by Reuters, BBC, and TASS
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