NATO, Russia meeting fails to bridge differences




BRUSSELS (AP) — The first meeting of the NATO-Russia council in nearly two years failed to bridge differences between Moscow and the alliance, NATO's chief said Wednesday.

The meeting, which ran more than 90 minutes over schedule, was the occasion for a "frank and serious" discussion about the situation in Ukraine, issues related to military activities of the alliance and Russia, and the security situation in and around Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"NATO and Russia have profound and persistent differences," Stoltenberg said. "Today's meeting did not change that."

Before the talks, Stoltenberg said the meeting at alliance headquarters was being held to exchange views on Ukraine and other issues, but also to discuss improving "mechanisms of risk reduction related to military activities."

Last week, U.S. officials accused Russian warplanes of repeatedly buzzing a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea, coming as close as 30 feet (9 meters). Russia's Defense Ministry rejected the U.S. complaints.

The NATO-Russia Council was founded in 2002 as a forum for consultations between the former Cold War foes, but last met in June 2014, when the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine sent relations with the West into a deep freeze.

NATO also suspended practical cooperation with Russia due to the Crimean annexation and what it views as Russia's support for an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. But Stoltenberg said it was vital to keep channels of communication with Moscow open.

"When tensions are high, I think the need for open channels, for political dialogue, for predictability, for transparency, is even more important," Stoltenberg said Tuesday while attending a meeting with European Union defense ministers in Luxembourg.

NATO is engaging in the largest reinforcement of its collective defenses since the Cold War, in large part in response to what it perceives as a newly aggressive Russia. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, blamed NATO for the resulting "lack of mutual trust."

"We are seeing hostile actions by boosting NATO potential at our borders, it's a threat to our national interests," Peskov said Tuesday. "NATO's recent actions show that the alliance is still working on its original concept: to constrain Russia and confront it. We're glad there is a dialogue, but it won't be easy."

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Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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