NATO, Russia Remain at Loggerheads over Ukraine

United States President Barack Obama gestures during a press conference ending the second day of the NATO Summit, in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
United States President Barack Obama gestures during a press conference ending the second day of the NATO Summit, in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, July 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

BRUSSELS — NATO and Russia remain at loggerheads over Ukraine but will consider a proposal to reduce the risk of an accidental military confrontation in Baltic airspace, NATO's chief said Wednesday.

Alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefed reporters following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Stoltenberg said NATO ambassadors briefed Russian counterparts on decisions made at NATO's July 8-9 summit in Warsaw.

On Ukraine, "there was not a meeting of the minds today," Stoltenberg said.

However, he said the Russians made suggestions on risk reduction moves in Baltic airspace involving the use of warplanes' transponders. He said "allies will study this proposal carefully," but want more details.

The meeting at NATO's Brussels headquarters followed last week's gathering of alliance heads of state and government in Warsaw. Among other things, U.S. President Barack Obama and the other NATO leaders ordered reinforcements for allies closest to Russia with four new multinational battalions for Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The initial reaction from Moscow has been negative. But both sides welcomed a Finnish idea on turn on warplanes' transponders to reduce chances of an incident between NATO and Russian warplanes in the Baltic Sea region. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also embraced the Finnish proposal.

Dutch NATO Ambassador Marjanne de Kwaasteniet said Wednesday's session of the NATO-Russia Council, the first since April, was meant to "keep dialogue with Russia open, despite differences."

In a joint declaration, Obama and the other leaders in Warsaw sternly accused Russia of "destabilizing actions and politics," including the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and what they called provocative activities near NATO borders, including repeated violations of NATO countries' airspace.

Moscow has accused NATO of beefing up its forces near Russia and vowed to do what's needed to defend its territory and interests. On Sunday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused NATO of engaging in the "demonization" of Russia.

NATO's supreme commander, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, told reporters in Warsaw he'd like to speak regularly with Russian generals to defuse tensions, but hasn't been able to establish contact since he assumed his command in May.

"We've said we're transparent and we're willing to talk, but we've not had that reach-out from them yet," Scaparrotti said.

Foreign ministers from NATO's 28 member countries wanted a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council before the July 8-9 summit in Warsaw, but the alliance wasn't able to reach consensus with the Russians on the agenda and timing. The council was founded as a forum for consultation and cooperation in 2002 when relations between Moscow and the West were much warmer, but didn't convene for nearly two years following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The council's April 20 meeting, the first since the Crimean crisis, failed to bridge NATO's "profound and persistent disagreements" with the Kremlin, Stoltenberg said.

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