NATO and Russia failed to overcome deep differences over Ukraine yesterday (13 July) in their first talks since the alliance approved a troop boost in Eastern Europe, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.
Russia proposed steps to improve air safety over the Baltics after a series of military near misses but Stoltenberg admitted there was “not a meeting of minds” on the Ukraine conflict.
Moscow’s ambassador to NATO said the planned deployment in its Soviet-era backyard was “excessive” and accused the US-led alliance of fomenting a Cold War atmosphere.
The meeting between ambassadors from the 28-nation alliance and Russia is the first since April and just the second since 2014, when the Ukraine conflict plunged relations into a deep freeze.
“We had an open and frank atmosphere in the meeting but we didn’t agree,” Stoltenberg said after the talks involving the Russian ambassador and his counterparts from the 28 NATO countries.
“Allies and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements on Ukraine. There was not a meeting of minds today,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief added that “in the spirit of transparency, NATO briefed Russia on the important decisions that we took in Warsaw last week to increase our security”.
NATO leaders decided at the summit in the Polish capital to send four battalions totalling around 4,000 soldiers to Poland and the Baltic states, which have been nervous ever since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
They also said they had agreed on a twin-track policy of “deterrence and dialogue” with Russia, insisting they would not back down until Moscow abided by the Minsk peace deal for Ukraine.
‘Cold War atmosphere’
But Russia has been strongly critical of the NATO troop decision, accusing the alliance of aggression and warning that it will react to the deployment of forces in its former Soviet backyard.
“The measures on the eastern flank are not justified. They are excessive and counter-productive,” Alexander Grushko, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said after the meeting.
He said NATO was “taking us back to a Cold War atmosphere” and said the “model of confrontation that (NATO) is imposing on us does not interest us.”
Western countries accuse Russia of backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine and the United States and European Union have imposed punishing economic sanctions on Moscow.
The tensions over Ukraine have flared up in recent months with a string of incidents involving Russian and NATO planes over the Baltic Sea, as well as naval incidents in other regions.
But Stoltenberg did however say that Russia had “raised a proposal on air safety in the Baltic Sea” and that the alliance would look at the plans “carefully”.
Russia’s NATO-member Baltic neighbours have accused Moscow of regularly violating their airspace in recent months and flying with switched-off transponders, devices that allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions.
President Vladimir Putin this month backed a call for all military aircraft flying over the Baltic region to keep their transponders on.
Moscow said before the meeting that it would raise the US missile shield that NATO declared operational at the summit in the Polish capital.
NATO insists the missile shield is aimed at Iran or possible rogue non-state actors, and says it poses no threat to Russia’s military deterrent.