Top Russian, NATO generals choose Baku for talks on preventing military incidents

Russian Chief of the General Staff and the First deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov (L) talks to an unidentified officer prior the opening of the III Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia, 23 May 2014. NATO countries ignored the conference. [Sergei Chirikov/EPA]

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku will host a rare meeting between top generals from Russia and NATO, who will focus on preventing military incidents “caused by a possible misinterpretation of the actions of Russia and NATO”, according to the Russian television RT.

The RT website reported on Thursday (19 April) that Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s General Staff, and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Curtis Scaparrotti will meet in Azerbaijan on Friday to discuss Syria. News of the meeting has also been reported by other media, including Radio Free Europe.

Quoting the Russian Defence Ministry, RT wrote that Gerasimov has already arrived in Baku ahead of discussions, which are also expected to touch on NATO and Russian military activities in Europe.

The top brass talks will focus on preventing military incidents “caused by a possible misinterpretation of the actions of Russia and NATO in the military area,” TASS reported earlier, citing sources in Brussels.

President Ilham Aliyev will meet Gerasimov during the top Russian general’s working trip to Azerbaijan, according to the Russian defence ministry.

The talks come at a time when tensions between the West and Russia are at their highest since the end of the Cold War, with a growing risk that any future incident might spark a wider conflict.

 

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The choice of Baku for the venue of the talks suggests that the sides have sought a “neutral” place to meet. Azerbaijan has good relations both with Russia and NATO. The country, rich in fossil fuels, seeks no affiliation or rapprochement either with NATO or the Russia-led structures such as the Eurasian Union.

Moreover, Azerbaijan seeks to reinforce its neutral image and will assume the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement in 2019.

The Non-Aligned Movement is an international organization uniting 120 countries on the principles of non-participation in military blocs. Moreover, 17 countries and 10 international organizations have an observer status in the organisation.

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The meeting between Scaparrotti and Gerasimov follows over a year of diplomacy between senior military figures in Russia and the West to try to reestablish formal communication links that broke down following Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Reuters wrote.

“General Scaparrotti and General Gerasimov agreed to continue using the military lines of communication in the future,” NATO said in a statement.

In early 2017, Czech General Petr Pavel, who heads the NATO’s military committee, had his first telephone call in more than two years with Gerasimov, paving the way for them to meet last September in Baku.

General Joseph Dunford, the top US military officer, also met Gerasimov in Azerbaijan last year.

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