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'Business as Usual' With Russia Unlikely, NATO Leader Says

April 11, 2016 (Photo Credit: NATO)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned there is little chance of a return to “business as usual” with a newly emboldened Russia.

He was speaking ahead of the NATO-Russia Council which will meet next week with the alliance keen to resume contact with Moscow after Crimea annexation 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 the meeting, scheduled for April 20 at the 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.

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 NATO 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.”

Tension between NATO and Russia, which both 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 armored 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 sources said the meeting next week is an attempt to repair the partnership.

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

NATO 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 NATO, 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 criticized 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, however, 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 chairperson of the NRC, which was established at the NATO-Russia Summit in Rome in 2002.

The bitter conflict in Eastern Ukraine shows no sign of abating, despite a lull in hostilities earlier this year. Recent weeks have seen a serious upsurge in fighting between the two sides with further loss of life.

The dispute erupted in early 2014 when Ukraine's former government refused to back an association agreement with the EU. 

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