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7 Jun, 2021 11:16

NATO calls for crunch talks with Russia as Moscow unveils armed forces shakeup in response to military bloc’s activity on borders

NATO calls for crunch talks with Russia as Moscow unveils armed forces shakeup in response to military bloc’s activity on borders

Russian army chiefs have been asked to join Western counterparts for discussions on how to de-escalate the tense standoffs on the country’s borders, with NATO’s general secretary calling on Moscow to meet as a matter of urgency.

Jens Stoltenberg told Berlin’s Die Welt that he felt there is a desperate need for constructive dialogue as part of the NATO-Russia Council. The body has not met for 19 months, with Moscow saying it sees little point in talks given current tensions.

“We invited the Russian government to a new meeting over a year ago, but there was no positive reply,” he said. “The ball is now on Russia’s side. I would like to invite Russia again to take part in a meeting of the Council as soon as possible. We have a lot to discuss that is in the common interest of us both,” the official added.

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In April, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, rejected claims that his country was uninterested in participating in bilateral talks with NATO. “Our colleague Mr Stoltenberg declares that Russia refuses to work in the Russia-NATO Council,” Lavrov said the last time the issue came up. Instead, he insisted that “we do not refuse to work, we just don’t want to sit there and hear about Ukraine.”

“NATO has nothing to do with Ukraine,” the foreign minister blasted, “and yet when they offer to convene the Russia-NATO Council, they always insist that the first question should be about Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, said the agenda for any such negotiations should include “the mutual exchange of information on military maneuvers to prevent misunderstandings and possible escalation.” The colossal DefenderEurope exercises, led by US troops, have seen military units and hardware deployed across the continent, including in countries close to Russia’s borders in the Baltic countries, Caucasus, and Ukraine.

Responding to the request, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, said that Moscow would be open to the prospect of talks, provided that they focused primarily on military matters. “Russia is not backing away from dialogue with NATO and is prepared for a real discussion of the issues of de-escalation and prevention of incidents,” she announced. “But without the involvement of military experts, negotiations on these topics are practically meaningless,” she added in a statement on Telegram.

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Last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that the country will revamp and upgrade its military presence along its European borders in response to what it sees as an increase in activity from the bloc. “The actions of our Western colleagues destroy the security system in the world and force us to take adequate countermeasures,” he said, adding that the soldiers would be equipped with the latest hardware.

The NATO-Russia Council was set up in 2002 to foster improved co-operation between the bloc and the Kremlin. Just five years prior, both sides had signed a post-Cold War treaty that declared they “do not consider each other as adversaries. They share the goal of overcoming the vestiges of earlier confrontation and competition and of strengthening mutual trust and cooperation.”

However, in 2004, the bloc went through the single largest expansion in its history, admitting the Baltic nations, as well as Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, which was widely interpreted in Moscow as a calculated expansion of US influence and military capability in the region. A collection of documents was declassified in 2017, with historians and commentators saying it showed definitively that American, British, and German officials gave assurances to the Kremlin in the 1990s that NATO would not push into Eastern European nations.

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Since then, relations have deteriorated significantly. In February, the bloc’s supreme allied commander, General Tod D. Wolters, claimed that “Russia remains an enduring existential threat to the United States and our European allies.” The army chief added that “if deterrence fails, we’re prepared to respond to aggression, primarily through NATO.”

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