NATO seeks new meeting with Russia ahead of Warsaw summit

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg © Francois Lenoir
Germany is pushing NATO to holding a meeting with Russia ahead of the upcoming summit of the alliance in Warsaw. It comes as NATO continues to ignore Russia’s concerns over its expansion and military build-up in Europe.

“There was broad agreement yesterday that NATO should convene a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council before our next summit in July," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Friday on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was established in 2002 with the goal to reduce tension and resolve differences between Moscow and the alliance. The work of the council was suspended in 2014, as NATO responded to the Ukrainian crisis, which plunged relations with Russia to their worst level since the Cold War, by cutting off all practical cooperation. The body convened again for the first time in nearly two years last month, but this did little to deescalate the situation.

Russia insists that since it did not decide to cut ties with NATO, it is up to the military bloc to act. However, Moscow expressed some contempt at the presumption that it would jump to accept NATO’s suggestion for a new meeting.

“The Russia-NATO Council works on the basis of consensus," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented in response to Stoltenberg’s announcement of an upcoming council session. "If they want to discuss this, let him discuss this with us, instead of making his way to the microphone."

Germany claimed credit for pushing NATO to continuing dialogue with Russia.

“The first NTC meeting on April 20 managed to build an atmosphere of dialogue, which allows if not resolve issues than at least share opinions,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

Steinmeier is a vocal advocate of renewing diplomatic ties with Russian via various forums, including the NRC, the G7 and others. Germany’s position was backed by other Western European nations, such as France and Italy.

A discordant voice came from Estonia, which said it didn’t foresee a normalization of NATO’s relations with Russia anytime soon.

“We don’t expect that an exchange of opinions on the next NATO-Russia meeting would produce any result,” Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand said.

Estonia, along with other Baltic nations and Poland, are at the forefront of the US-backed campaign to put more troops in Eastern Europe. They justify the build-up by a perceived threat from Russia, which Moscow denies exists.

NATO foreign ministers attend a meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium May 19, 2016. © Francois Lenoir

The Warsaw summit is expected to produce closer cooperation between NATO members and the EU, an expectation underscored by the participation of European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in the Brussels meeting.

Some NATO members like Turkey and the US are not part of the EU, while some EU members such as Finland and Sweden are not part of NATO. The two institutions have some unresolved differences. Greece is blocking Brussels from sharing sensitive information with NATO member Turkey, while Turkey does not allow NATO to share intelligence with the EU.

READ MORE: Ex-general says NATO-Russia nuclear war ‘possible within a year’

The suggestion for dialogue comes as NATO made two steps, which Russia sees as major encroachments on its national security. Last week a Romanian antimissile site came online with a stated goal of countering a threat from Iran. Moscow says the facility can shoot cruise missiles at targets in Russia. This week NATO signed a treaty with Montenegro, furthering the process of the former Yugoslavian nation’s ascension to the alliance. Russia sees the perpetual enlargement of NATO towards its borders as a military threat.