NATO will seek a meeting with Russia before leaders of the military alliance meet in July, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Friday, but officials in Moscow said this move was news to them.
There is "broad agreement" among NATO foreign ministers that the alliance "should convene a new meeting of the NATO-Russia Council before our next summit," Stoltenberg told journalists in Brussels during a meeting of the 28 ministers.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov complained that Stoltenberg announced the meeting without actually informing Russia.
"The NATO-Russia Council works on a consensual basis. If they want to discuss this [meeting], then they can with us, and not just get on the microphone," Lavrov said according to the state news agency TASS.
Stoltenberg said NATO would consult with Russia to work out the modalities, timing and agenda of a meeting, which German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier indicated could take place in June.
Relations between NATO and Moscow have reached their worst point since the Cold War over Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
But the alliance is keen to maintain dialogue channels with Russia to keep tensions from boiling over into military incidents. Ambassadors from the two side resumed talks in the NATO-Russia Council last month for the first time in almost two years.
"Especially when tensions are high, as they are now, it is important to have transparency and predictability," Stoltenberg said.
Germany and France are pushing for another meeting of the NATO and Russian ambassadors before the Western alliance's July 8-9 summit in Warsaw to brief each other on decisions being considered.
NATO is for instance expected to decide at the summit whether to deploy battalions to Poland and the Baltic states - a move that would likely further antagonize Russia, which has said that the alliance's eastward expansion threatens its national security.
Steinmeier described the NATO ministers' discussion about seeking another meeting as "contentious." Eastern European countries have been especially wary of reviving relations with Moscow.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it does not expect "any breakthroughs in our relations" from the new round of talks.
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said it was sceptical about the meeting's "possible added value," accusing Russia of engaging only on issues "where it sees its own direct interest and not for the sake of cooperation."
The NATO ministers on Friday also held talks with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini about enhancing cooperation. The European Union has hit Russia with several rounds of sanctions over its actions in Ukraine.
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