BRUSSELS: The first meeting of the Nato-Russia Council in nearly two years ran over schedule on Wednesday but failed to do much to improve relations between Moscow and the US-led alliance, at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
“Nato and Russia have profound and persistent differences,” Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who chaired the council, told reporters afterwards. “Today’s meeting didn’t change that.”
“It’s better to talk than not to talk,” said Russian Ambassador Alexander Grushko, who met with counterparts from Nato’s 28 member states.
But Grushko said that for the Kremlin, “it’s absolutely clear that without real steps on Nato’s side to downgrade military activity in the area adjacent to the Russian Federation, it will not be possible to engage in any meaningful dialogue on confidence-building measures.”
Stoltenberg said the meeting, which lasted three hours, or 90 minutes longer than planned, was the occasion for “frank and serious” exchanges about the situation in Ukraine, issues relating to military activities of Russia and Nato, and the security situation in and around Afghanistan, including the threat of extremist violence region-wide.
The Nato-Russia Council was founded in 2002 as a forum for consultations between the former Cold War foes, but before Wednesday, had last met in June 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine sent relations with the West into a tailspin.
The latest session at Nato headquarters led to no decisions, not even a firm commitment to reconvene, but Stoltenberg observed that “since we never suspended the council, I expect that we will meet again.”
The Nato chief said all alliance members and Russia had agreed on one thing: the need for swift and comprehensive implementation of the Minsk agreement designed to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.