Ahead of the first talks at the NATO-Russia Council since the height of the Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin described relations with the military and political alliance Tuesday as full of "mistrust," indicating a breakthrough was not likely in the discussions.
“Russia-NATO relations are undoubtedly going, one would think, through the forgotten but returned increased deficit of mutual trust and, probably, the triumph of mutual mistrust,” Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said. Peskov stressed it would difficult to overcome mutual distrust during the talks.
The ambassador-level meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels is the first since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 and the start of the ensuing conflict in Eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels. The conflict has left more than 9,000 dead and more than 1.4 million displaced.
Central and Eastern European states have called for a greater NATO troop presence in the region amid Russian aggression in Ukraine and airspace violations. Ahead of Wednesday’s talks, Polish President Andrzej Duda said Russia should not be isolated, but continued to call for a strong NATO presence following Russian planes buzzing an American aircraft carrier last week.
— NATO (@NATO) April 18, 2016
“It’s good that NATO-Russia talks are being held, but in the course of these talks we should show character. The North Atlantic Alliance should show it is steadfast in its principles when it comes to observing international law, security, peace and order internationally,” Duda said.
The Kremlin said Tuesday it would bring up NATO’s regional military buildup during the meeting, while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would discuss recent Russian maneuvers including intercepting a U.S. Air Force plane and buzzing a Navy destroyer in the Baltic Sea.
“The incidents we have seen in the Baltic Sea over the last week with the unprofessional and unsafe behavior of Russian planes close to an American ship and an American plane underline the importance of open military lines of communication, predictability and risk reduction,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday.
Both Russian and NATO officials have played down the chances of a breakthrough during talks. "When tensions are high, the need for open channels of dialogue, for predictability, for transparency, is more important,” Stoltenberg said.