No return to 'business as usual' with Russia, warns Nato chief

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has warned there is currently little chance of a return to "business as usual" with a newly-emboldened Russia.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

11 Apr 2016

He was speaking ahead of the Nato-Russia Council, which will meet next week. The Alliance is keen to resume contact with Moscow after the annexation of Crimea strained ties between the two sides.

The crisis in and around Ukraine and the need to fully implement the Minsk agreements will be on the agenda at a meeting scheduled for 20 April at Nato's Brussels headquarters.

Military activities will also feature, with particular focus on transparency and risk reduction, the security situation in Afghanistan, and regional terrorist threats.


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Stoltenberg said that the meeting will take place "at ambassadorial level."

"This meeting is the continuation of our political dialogue. At the same time, there will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law."

He pointed out that the western military bloc decided to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia in April 2014 in response to Russia's "aggressive" actions in Ukraine.

"This decision stands," he said, adding, "At the same time, Nato kept channels of political dialogue and military communication open."

The bitter conflict in Ukraine erupted in early 2014 when the former government refused to sign an association agreement with the EU, sparking violent clashes.

After a lull, fighting between the two sides has recently erupted with further loss of life.

Tension between the Alliance and Russia, both of which possess huge nuclear arsenals dating back to the Cold War, has clouded international relations since the annexation of Crimea two years ago.

Nato announced last month that an extra armoured brigade would be deployed in eastern Europe, meaning a total of three will be there on a continuous basis.

Late last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin described Nato's expansion as a threat to his country.

A Nato source said the meeting next week is an attempt to repair the partnership between the bloc and Russia that suffered following Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

The decision to suspend cooperation with Russia was formalised in September 2014, with ministers agreeing to continue only the Nato-Russia Council meetings on political dialogue, which do not cover military issues.

Officials said the Alliance has been trying resume meetings between the Russians and Nato ambassadors since December 2015.

Nato's deputy Secretary General has met several times with the Russian Ambassador to the organisation, Alexander Grushko, including in recent weeks.

The last attempt by Nato officials to set up a meeting with the Russian side occurred in February during the Munich security conference. 

Moscow has repeatedly criticised Nato's creeping expansion in eastern Europe. In a recent statement, 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.

A Nato official said that "in difficult times it is good to talk. It shows we are committed to continue the political dialogue." 

The Nato Secretary General is the Chair of the NRC, which was established at the Nato-Russia summit in Rome in 2002.

 

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