BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A forum bringing together Russia and its former Cold War adversary NATO will convene in the coming weeks for the first time since the Ukraine crisis halted its activities, both sides said on Friday.
The NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 but was effectively suspended months after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Both sides have now agreed to hold talks at ambassador level in Brussels in the next two weeks.
While the West and Russia remain at odds over Ukraine, the meeting is a sign of willingness to improve diplomatic relations that could help avoid any accidental military clashes in the region.
Earlier on Friday, Alexey Meshkov, a deputy Russian foreign minister, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying the meeting could happen “in the coming weeks”. NATO confirmed the meeting would take place at its headquarters in the next two weeks but did not give a precise date.
Russia’s mission to NATO said that the agenda of the meeting, which had been the main sticking point for some time, was now agreed. It did not give a date for the meeting.
NATO has said any meeting would have to address the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014. The West accuses Russia of supporting the rebels, something Moscow denies.
“The NATO-Russia Council will discuss the crisis in and around Ukraine and the need to fully implement the Minsk agreements,” NATO said in a statement, referring to the two rounds of peace efforts agreed in the Belarusian capital but which have yet to be implemented.
“We will discuss military activities, with particular focus on transparency and risk reduction,” it said, adding that Afghanistan and regional threats were also on the agenda.
As NATO accelerates its biggest military build-up in eastern Europe since the Cold War, the alliance wants to talk to Moscow about improved military transparency to avoid misunderstandings.
NATO suspended all practical cooperation with Russia in April 2014 in protest against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. NATO said high-level political contacts with Russia could continue but NATO and Russian ambassadors met only twice since the Crimea crisis erupted, in March 2014 and then in early June of the same year.
Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Robin Pomeroy