NATO-Russia Council not yet possible, Stoltenberg says

MUNICH (Reuters) - NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed on Friday how to renew dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council, which has not met since 2014, but are little closer to agreeing a date or an agenda.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Yves Herman

As NATO accelerates its biggest military build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War to deter Russia, the alliance wants to talk to Moscow about improved military transparency to avoid misunderstandings.

But convening the NATO-Russia Council is proving difficult with NATO and Russia at odds over issues ranging from Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine to its airspace incursions in Turkey.

“If I started to go into all the elements of why we haven’t been able to convene a meeting, then I think I would only make it even more difficult to convene one,” Stoltenberg told a news conference after his meeting with Lavrov in Munich.

Pushed by Germany since late last year, a NATO-Russia Council in NATO’s Brussels headquarters could help avoid any worsening of ties between the two military powers, Berlin has said.

NATO diplomats say the lack of dialogue feeds mistrust.

“We all have to be ready to discuss difficult issues, issues where we disagree,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said any meeting would have to address the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Fighting there has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014.

Worried since Russia’s seizure of Crimea that Moscow could rapidly invade Poland or the Baltic states, the Western military alliance wants to bolster defenses on its eastern flank without provoking the Kremlin by stationing large forces there permanently.

The NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 and is chaired by the NATO secretary general.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Katharine Houreld