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Russian Defense Minister Says Relations With NATO 'Degrading Every Day'

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has suggested that relations between Moscow and NATO are "not just halted but...degrading every day," citing a falloff that began "about five years ago."

Shoigu was responding to a question about Moscow's currently rocky relations with the transatlantic military alliance on Rossiya 1's weekend show on December 8.

"About five years ago, we had rather active cooperation in Brussels. We had our representative there," Shoigu said. "[Today] our partners are pulling out of more and more agreements, clearly along with the Americans. And the security space is getting increasingly narrow."

Neither the TASS nor the Interfax report that quoted Shoigu made any mention of Russia's 2014 illegal annexation of Ukraine, which sparked tough Western sanctions and many blame for the decline in the relationship.

Moscow has sought to open rifts within Western and transatlantic partnerships amid sanctions and other international responses to its actions in eastern Ukraine, offering financial incentives for Greeks and Italians, supporting polarizing political groupings in the West, and allegedly using covert social-media accounts and cybertools to undermine elections in the West.

It has kept up pressure on Europe in an effort to reverse Western economic sanctions.

NATO leaders this week pledged their commitment to the 29-member alliance's mutual defense clause while naming Russia a security "threat" in a joint declaration issued after a 70th anniversary summit in London.

They also said "Russia's aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security."

Before chairing the meeting, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described NATO as "the most-successful alliance in history because we have been able to change again and again when the world is changing."

Just last month, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested to The Economist that NATO was "brain dead" and predicted that Russia would eventually seek "a partnership project with Europe."

Macron's comments were widely seen as part of a French strategy that includes greater direct engagement between the West and Moscow, which have clashed diplomatically for decades over NATO expansion into the former Eastern Bloc but are on historically poor footing since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

A planned meeting in Paris on December 9 between host Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to provide a test of Macron's perceived strategy of greater direct engagement between Moscow and the West.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August amid accusations that Russia had developed a weapon banned by the agreement.

Trump has since expressed concerns about Russia's development of new nuclear systems in light of the scheduled expiration in 2021 of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) -- the last remaining nuclear arms treaty with Russia, dating back to 2011.

Washington has also said it hopes to bring China into the agreement, a prospect that has been spurned by Beijing and could take years to achieve.

Moscow has aggressively courted NATO member Turkey and its increasingly assertive president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, since a failed coup d'etat in 2016 that Erdogan blamed on a cleric who resides in the United States.

A NATO-linked report recently said the world’s largest social-media companies were failing at regulating their platforms to combat the manipulation of information by countries like Russia.

The NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence report came with British and U.S. officials, among others, preparing for elections and looking to avoid a repeat of social media manipulation -- much of which was generated from Russia -- targeting previous votes such as the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the 2016 British referendum of leaving the European Union.

There has also been a rise in near-miss encounters between Russian and Western aircraft in European and North American skies since relations soured in 2014.

Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS
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