June 4, 2015 / 8:28 AM / 5 years ago

Russia not an immediate threat to NATO states, Stoltenberg says

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg talks to the media as he arrives for a joint meeting of European Union foreign and defence ministers at the EU Council in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

OSLO (Reuters) - Russia poses no immediate threat to NATO countries and the military alliance still hopes bilateral relations will improve, its Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

Russia had been willing to use force to change borders in Europe, he said during a visit to his native Norway, pointing to Crimea, east Ukraine and Georgia as examples.

“What we see is more unpredictability, more insecurity, more unrest... (But) I believe we don’t see any immediate threat against any NATO country from the east,” he told NRK public radio.

NATO has repeatedly criticized Moscow’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and demanded it fully endorse a ceasefire agreement there. Russia denies providing troops or arms to support separatists rebels in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukraine conflict has in particular unnerved Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the only parts of the former Soviet Union that have joined NATO.

The Baltic states are small and isolated from the rest of the European Union, and have Russian-speaking minorities which President Vladimir Putin said last year gives Moscow the right to intervene with military force.

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, said he hoped relations between the alliance and Russia could improve.

“Our goal is still cooperation with Russia... That serves NATO and it serves Russia,” he said.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik; editing by John Stonestreet

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