The planned April 20 meeting of the NATO-Russia Council follows two Baltic Sea incidents last week in which Russian warplanes buzzed the USS Donald Cook destroyer and performed what Washington called “erratic and aggressive maneuvers” near an American plane during a flight in international airspace, Rferl.org reports.
“The unprofessional and unsafe behavior of Russian planes…underlines the importance of open military lines of communication, of predictability and risk reduction,” Stoltenberg said on April 19 in Luxembourg.
The ambassadorial-level meeting in Brussels will be the first such consultation since NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Moscow in April 2014 following Russia’s military seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula the previous month.
Since then the NATO-Russia Council has only met once, in June 2014, though Stoltenberg has met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on several occasions in recent years.
Speaking April 19 ahead of an EU Defense Ministers meeting, Stoltenberg said the two sides would discuss Afghanistan and “the crisis in and around Ukraine,” where fighting between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country has killed more than 9,100 since April 2014.
The meeting comes amid rising concerns about violations of a fragile cease-fire that has been in place since a February 2015 peace deal brokered in Minsk.
Stoltenberg stressed, however, that that the planned meeting of the council “does not mean that we are back to business as normal.”
“We decided back in 2014 to suspend practical cooperation, and we have also implemented the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War,” he said.
“But we have decided to keep the chance for political dialogue open, and the NATO-Russia Council is one way of making sure that we have political dialogue with Russia,” Stoltenberg added.