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NATO says no ’meeting of minds’ with Russia

Update: July, 14/2016 - 11:00

BRUSSELS - NATO and Russia failed to overcome deep differences over Ukraine Wednesday in their first talks since the alliance approved a troop boost in Eastern Europe, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

Russia proposed steps to improve air safety over the Baltics after a series of military near misses but Stoltenberg admitted there was "not a meeting of minds" on the Ukraine conflict.

Moscow’s ambassador to NATO said the planned deployment in its Soviet-era backyard was "excessive" and accused the US-led alliance of fomenting a Cold War atmosphere.

The meeting between ambassadors from the 28-nation alliance and Russia is the first since April and just the second since 2014, when the Ukraine conflict plunged relations into a deep freeze.

"We had an open and frank atmosphere in the meeting but we didn’t agree," Stoltenberg said after the talks involving the Russian ambassador and his counterparts from the 28 NATO countries.

"Allies and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements on Ukraine. There was not a meeting of minds today," Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief added that "in the spirit of transparency, NATO briefed Russia on the important decisions that we took in Warsaw last week to increase our security."

NATO leaders decided at the summit in the Polish capital to send four battalions totalling around 4,000 soldiers to Poland and the Baltic states.

They also said they had agreed on a twin-track policy of "deterrence and dialogue" with Russia, insisting they would not back down until Moscow abided by the Minsk peace deal for Ukraine.

’Cold War atmosphere’

But Russia has been strongly critical of the NATO troop decision, accusing the alliance of aggression and warning that it will react to the deployment of forces in its former Soviet backyard.

"The measures on the eastern flank are not justified. They are excessive and counter-productive," Alexander Grushko, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said after the meeting.

He said NATO was "taking us back to a Cold War atmosphere" and said the "model of confrontation that (NATO) is imposing on us does not interest us."

The tensions over Ukraine have flared up in recent months with a string of incidents involving Russian and NATO planes over the Baltic Sea, as well as naval incidents in other regions.

But Stoltenberg did however say that Russia had "raised a proposal on air safety in the Baltic Sea" and that the alliance would look at the plans "carefully". -- AFP

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