NATO, Russia to mull safety measures for jets flying over Baltic Sea

Russia and NATO said Wednesday that they are willing to consider implementing air safety measures over the Baltic Sea, which has seen some close encounters between Russian fighter jets and US military vessels.

Relations between Moscow and the Western military alliance have reached their worst point since the Cold War over Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula and its support for separatists in the east of Ukraine.

But NATO has also been keen to prevent the tensions from boiling over into military incidents.

Russia signalled at ambassador-level talks at NATO on Wednesday that "it wants to pursue risk reduction measures," the secretary general of the alliance said.

"This is something that [NATO] allies have been advocating for a long time," Jens Stoltenberg added.

Russia has been asked for "more details," he said, noting that he looks forward to "further discussions on this issue."

Stoltenberg said the measures would relate to the use of transponders. NATO has complained that Russian jets do not turn on their transponders, making them invisible to civilian radar.

Russia's ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, confirmed that his country is ready to discuss a plan with the Western military alliance for obligatory use of transponders in flights over the Baltic states, according to state news agency TASS.

But disagreements between NATO and Russia still remain, Stoltenberg said, notably on the crisis in Ukraine.

"Allies and Russia have profound and persistent disagreements on the crisis," the NATO chief said. "There was not a meeting of minds today."

NATO ambassadors last met Grushko in April, after a hiatus of almost two years.

Both sides have been flexing their military muscles in Eastern Europe, accusing each other of sabre-rattling and provocations.

The ambassadors informed Grushko of NATO leaders' recent decision to deploy four battalions next year to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which feel threatened by Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Sunday accused NATO of "demonization" and "concentrating its efforts on containing a non-existent threat from the east." The country has also stepped up the military presence on its western flank.

Stoltenberg said that the dialogue with Russia would continue, while adding that a date or format for the meeting had not yet been decided.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had said ahead of Wednesday's talks that he hoped they would be truly constructive and "not aimed at scoring points for propaganda."

"In NATO, there is a prevailing desire to maintain an artificially created image of an enemy to demand unity of its members and consolidate its positions," Lavrov said in comments carried by TASS.

"The alliance asked us for this meeting," he added. "We agreed because we never back away from dialogue."

Also on Wednesday, the leaders of Russia and the NATO member states of Germany and France had a telephone conversation about the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande "expressed mutual desire to pursue constructive dialogue and take concrete steps to strengthen confidence between Russia and NATO," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Last update: Wed, 13/07/2016 - 20:52

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