December 15, 2016 / 3:27 PM / 10 months ago

NATO-Russia Council to meet on Monday amid east-west standoff

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO envoys will hold a formal meeting with Russia on Monday after Moscow agreed to a “frank discussion” about the east-west standoff that both sides say is a risk to Europe’s stability.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg chairs a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The NATO-Russia Council, the forum bringing together NATO ambassadors and Russia’s top diplomat attached to the U.S.-led alliance, will convene for only the third time this year with the crisis in Ukraine still the top concern for Brussels and Washington. Russia says it is concerned about a NATO military build-up near its borders.

“I have invited the members of the NATO-Russia Council to a meeting on Monday,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters, saying Ukraine was on the agenda.

“When tensions run high, as today, it is even more important to have direct dialogue with Russia,” he said as he arrived for a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.

European members of NATO are also concerned about U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s questioning, during his election campaign, whether Washington should protect allies not spending enough on their own defence, and by his outwardly conciliatory approach to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Ambassador Alexander Grushko said Moscow would raise its concerns about NATO’s plan to send multinational forces to the Baltics and Poland from next year.

“We count on having a frank discussion about the security situation in Europe, taking into account those factors that have an impact on it, including, of course, the consequences of NATO reinforcements on the eastern flank,” Grushko told reporters.

NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with Russia since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, but says talking to the Kremlin is crucial to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to broader conflict.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Mark Heinrich

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