Nato might resume talks with Russia

2015-12-02 19:03
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (AP)

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (AP)

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Brussels - Nato will explore the possibility of resuming high-level political talks with Moscow through a council that has largely been inactive since Russia's annexation of Crimea, the chief of the military alliance said on Wednesday.

Nato suspended all practical co-operation with Russia after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Ambassadors and ministers from the two sides have not met in the Nato-Russia Council since June 2014, although there were some other political and military contacts.

"I will now explore how we can use the council as a tool for political engagement," Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday after the alliance's foreign ministers discussed relations with Russia at a closed-door dinner the night before.

"This is not about going back to business as usual," Stoltenberg later added. "It is about how to use what we already have and that is the Nato-Russia Council. We will now look into and explore how we can have a meeting, the agenda and the timing."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country is ready to hold talks with Nato.

"Many questions have piled up for us, there is a need for discussions," he said, while adding that Moscow expects Stoltenberg to take the initiative.

The move follows the recent downing of a Russian jet by Nato member Turkey. Many Nato countries are keen to avoid any further such incidents in the future.

"Our priority now is to work to restore predictability in our relations," Stoltenberg noted.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he expects that "meetings on the level of ambassadors will probably soon be made possible again."

"If you believe diplomacy has a role to play, you need to be in the same room," Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen added.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo called for a new meeting of the Nato-Russia Council to be held before the military alliance's next summit in July.

Some reservations

He also admitted, however, that there were "some reservations" from north-eastern countries. Those nations, which are geographically closest to Russia and have felt threatened by its actions in Ukraine, are wary of a return to business as usual with Moscow.

Several ministers said Wednesday that a final decision on resuming meetings under the Nato-Russia Council had not yet been made.

"There is now a discussion in Nato how to shape a dialogue. One possibility is to have a political dialogue through the Nato-Russia Council, but there are other ways to do this too," Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said. "No conclusion has been drawn."

"We need a dialogue, that's clear. What exactly the dialogue should look like, it's to be decided yet," Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak added.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, who met with the Nato ministers on Wednesday for talks about the situation in his country, also called for the military alliance to avoid a return to business as usual and to a "political track" with Moscow.

The minister said he received assurances from his Nato counterparts that the implementation of the Minsk ceasefire deal for eastern Ukraine would be raised in "any kind" of interactions with Moscow.

The peace agreement, signed in February in the Belarusian capital, is supposed to be fully implemented by the end of this year.

But Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that violence risks flaring up again.

"While we have seen some progress in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, there is a real risk of a resumption of violence," he said.

"Russian-backed separatists have not yet withdrawn their troops and equipment, illegal groups in eastern Ukraine have not been disarmed and Ukraine has not been able to re-establish control over its border," he added.

Moscow will not get relief from Western economic sanctions until it fully implements the Minsk accords, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned in Brussels.

"It's there for the getting if you simply live up to the promises that have been made - implement Minsk and this can be achieved," he said.

Nato countries will meanwhile continue to offer political and practical support to Ukraine, Stoltenberg underlined after the talks with Klimkin.

Read more on:    nato  |  russia  |  ukraine

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