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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.

tj/rt (dpa, AFP)

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