We need to talk… Stoltenberg says NATO seeking Russia meeting

© Yves Herman
Seemingly shifting the tone of the usual “Russian threat” rhetoric, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Washington the alliance is seeking talks with Moscow. It comes just a day after Stoltenberg singled out Russia out as the bloc’s top challenge.

In the aftermath of Crimea’s accession to Russia – or, as the Western governments keep insisting, its “annexation” – NATO suspended all military cooperation with Moscow.

But now, NATO and Russia are in discussions to settle on an agenda for a new meeting, according to the alliance’s Secretary General Stoltenberg. The meeting will take place through the NATO-Russia Council. 

The central goal at this point is to settle on an agenda. “And we are in the process of discussing that with the Russians, and hopefully we’ll be able to agree on the agenda and then to convene a meeting,” Stoltenberg said during an Atlantic Council speech.

“The [NATO-Russia] Council has never been suspended. Actually we had two meetings in the council after the annexation of Crimea. So the whole idea is that practical cooperation has been suspended, political dialogue has been in place,” Stoltenberg claimed.

Meanwhile, on Monday Russia’s Foreign Affairs Committee head Aleksey Pushkov said that the Russia-NATO Council is not working.

The council was set up in 2002 to create a forum for dialogue on security issues between NATO members and Russia.
Over the past couple of years, the Russia-NATO Council has suspended meetings due to strained relations after the Ukrainian crisis and NATO’s allegations of Russia’s involvement in the war in Donbass. 

Moscow has dismissed the accusations, while NATO has singled out Russia as a collective defense threat and has argued for the expansion of its military presence around the eastern borders of the alliance. 

While not fundamentally changing his stance on Russia and Ukraine, Stoltenberg somewhat softened the rhetoric, saying that NATO does not see “any immediate threat” in Europe, including on its Eastern European borders. He was responding to a question on whether Russia poses any “real” threat to the alliance. 

“NATO is not looking for a confrontation with Russia. We will avoid a new Cold War. We are counting on a dialogue with Russia,” he added. 

This comes in stark contrast to Stoltenberg’s comments just a day earlier, when he listed Russia as the alliance’s main challenge following a meeting with US President Barack Obama.
“Together, we are now implementing the biggest reinforcement through our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said.

Moscow has repeatedly criticized NATO’s creeping expansion in Eastern Europe. In a recent statement, Russia’s permanent representative to NATO, Aleksandr Grushko, said that the alliance’s expansion contradicts the spirit of international treaties on mutual relations and military activity, which state that the Western military bloc is not to permanently station additional forces near Russian borders.

“We are not passive observers, we consistently take all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence that is not justified by anything,” Grushko said.

Grushko also exclusively told RT he believes the recent anti-Russian rhetoric was serving to “breathe new life into NATO,” as the alliance is failing to respond to the modern security environment and “combat threats such as terrorism, migration and many others.”

Instead of this, the US is trying to “further strengthen its hegemony in European affairs and at the same time to drive a wedge between Europe and Russia.”