Senior military officials from Russia and NATO have held their first direct talks since the Western alliance cut military contacts with Russia three years ago over the Kremlin's interference in Ukraine.
Russia's Defense Ministry said NATO Military Committee Chairman Petr Pavel spoke with Russia's military chief of staff, Valery Gerasimov, by telephone on March 3 about the prospects for restarting cooperation, how to prevent accidental altercations between military forces, and other pressing security issues.
NATO headquarters in Brussels confirmed that the telephone conversation took place.
A NATO spokesman said that "the two generals agreed that they would remain in contact."
The phone conversation followed a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, on February 16 between Gerasimov and U.S. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Pentagon said Dunford's talks with Gerasimov focused on "the current state of U.S.-Russian military relations and the importance of consistent and clear military-to-military communication to prevent miscalculation and potential crises."
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Dunford's meeting with Gerasimov as an important "bilateral" attempt by a NATO ally to "develop lines of communications and develop the dialogue with Russia."
NATO has been ratcheting up its troop presence in Poland and its three Baltic member states in response to their concerns about Russian aggression since Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 and its support for Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In a statement on March 3, Russia's Defense Ministry said Gerasimov expressed concern to the head of NATO's Military Committee about "the significant increased military activity of the alliance near the Russian border."
The ministry said both sides "confirmed the need for mutual steps to reduce tension and stabilize the situation in Europe."
Despite substantial evidence of Russian military support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, Moscow continues to deny charges by NATO, the government in Kyiv, the United States, and other Western governments that Russia has sent troops and weaponry to bolster separatist forces there.
The European Union, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over its role in the conflict, as well as for its seizure and annexation of Crimea.
While military contacts had been severed between Russia and NATO over the issue, diplomats and government officials from the two sides have continued to meet.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and TASS