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In Moscow, German FM Warns Of Danger Of New Arms Race With Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meets with German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Moscow on March 9.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) meets with German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel in Moscow on March 9.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has warned Russia about the danger of a new arms race triggered by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and called for reducing the number of conventional weapons.

Speaking on March 9 in Moscow after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Gabriel said the two agreed on the need to continue talks in the so-called Normandy Format -- which consists of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France -- on ending the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Germany has contributed some of the roughly 4,000 troops NATO has deployed to the Baltic states and Poland, where Russia's aggression in Ukraine has increased concerns about its intentions in the region.

Meanwhile, Russia has transferred tens of thousands of soldiers to its western border regions.

"We have concerns that we are entering a new arms race," Gabriel said, adding that solving the Ukraine conflict would pave the way to work on further disarmament measures.

Lavrov said Russia rejects accusations that it was disproportionately building up a military force at its western borders.

He acknowledged that Russia and NATO began what he called cautious exchanges of information on military exercises.

Ahead of his arrival in Moscow, Gabriel called for the NATO-Russia Council to resume regular meetings.

NATO and Russia last week held their first top-level talks in three years, with a telephone conversation between the Russian Armed Forces General Staff chief Valery Gerasimov and NATO Military Committee chief Petr Pavel.

NATO suspended ties in April 2014 following Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

During a joint news conference with Lavrov, Gabriel also said Germany had no knowledge about purported CIA hacking attacks carried out from the U.S. Consulate in the German city of Frankfurt.

According to some of the thousands of purported CIA documents released by WikiLeaks on March 7, the consulate was the hub for U.S. cyberespionage in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

While the CIA has declined to comment on the subject, the German government said on March 8 that it was in close touch with U.S. authorities about the issue, but could not immediately verify the authenticity of the documents.

During the news conference, Lavrov also touched upon cyberattacks, but from a different angle. He used the event to protest what he said were regular accusations by German officials that Russia was perpetrating cyberattacks and was attempting to influence Germany's federal elections scheduled for September.

"All these accusations are absolutely groundless," Lavrov said.

In response, Gabriel said Berlin took any kind of influence operations aimed at affecting public opinion very seriously, regardless of their origin.

Gabriel and Lavrov were scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin later on March 9, the Kremlin said.

With reporting by Reuters, dpa, and Interfax
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