NATO-Russia Council meets for first time since Skripal poisoning

NATO ambassadors are meeting their Russian counterparts for talks on several thorny issues. It is the first meeting since NATO expelled Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in Britain.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) convened on Thursday in Brussels amid continued friction between the alliance and Moscow over the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

It is the first time the council has met since NATO and many of its members expelled Russian diplomats following a nerve-agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain, which the West has blamed on Russia.

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What will be on the agenda

  • The meeting is likely to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow is supporting separatists in a civil conflict.
  • The talks come just days after NATO called on Moscow to take responsibility for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, in which 298 people died.
  • Both sides are also looking for ways to reduce the danger of inadvertent clashes, particularly during military exercises.
  • The meeting may also cover the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in southern England in March, an attack several Western countries claim was carried out using a nerve agent whose likely source was Russia.

Read more: MH17: Netherlands, Australia hold Russia responsible for downing plane

Reducing tensions

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told German news magazine Spiegel on Saturday that the meeting could help decrease tensions between the military alliance and Russia and decrease the risk of accidental military encounters.

Velvet glove: The meeting is seen as playing into NATO's twin-track strategy of maintaining a strong defense against possible Russian aggression while continuing a "meaningful dialogue" with Moscow, a NATO official said on condition of anonymity. It gives an opportunity to discuss several issues where the two sides are at loggerheads, with the aim of mitigating tensions and the accompanying dangers of conflict.

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What is the NRC? According to the NRC's website, the council "is a mechanism for consultation, consensus-building, cooperation, joint decision and joint action, in which the individual NATO member states and Russia work as equal partners on a wide spectrum of security issues of common interest."

When was it founded? The NATO-Russia Council was founded in 2002 but was suspended for two years following Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014. 

How often does it meet? Thursday's meeting is the seventh in the past two years, with the previous one taking place in October.

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.

tj/rt (dpa, AFP)

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