Russia’s top military officer and the NATO commander discussed military activities in Europe and exchanged views on Syria during a rare face-to-face meeting in Azerbaijan, both sides have said in separate statements.
The Russian Defense Ministry and the Western military alliance said the meeting between Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's military general staff, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti took place in Baku on April 19.
The meeting was the first between the two generals since 2013. Relations between the two countries and their militaries were severely damaged in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and its aid for separatists in western Ukraine.
NATO later reacted by deploying four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states as tripwires against possible Russian adventurism, while the U.S. military sent a Patriot battery to Lithuania for drills.
The United States has also assailed Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has said it holds Moscow responsible for alleged chemical weapons attacks carried out by Syrian forces.
NATO said the Baku meeting "focused on issues related to military posture and exercises" and ways to avoid actions that could lead to war.
"The two military leaders used the...channel to foster predictability and transparency," NATO said.
"General Scaparrotti and General Gerasimov agreed to continue using the military lines of communication in the future," NATO said.
The Russian ministry said the two officers discussed confidence-building measures and incident prevention."
The ministry said Gerasimov also met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev while he was in Baku.
"Ilham Aliyev and Valery Gerasimov exchanged opinions on military-technical cooperation between Azerbaijan and Russia and on prospects of further cooperation," a statement from the Azerbaijani presidency said.
Aliyev was sworn in for a fourth term as president of Azerbaijan on April 18 after a landslide victory in an election boycotted by opponents and criticized by international observers.