NATO, Russia to meet amid missile arms race fears, military drills

Military action during the NATO led military exercise in Trondheim, Norway, Tuesday Oct. 30, 2018. (NTB scanpix via AP)
Updated 30 October 2018
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NATO, Russia to meet amid missile arms race fears, military drills

  • This is the first time the NATO-Russia Council meets since May
  • The maneuvers come amid persistent tensions between NATO and Russia

BRUSSELS/COPENHAGEN: NATO and Russia will hold talks this week as fears grow of a new arms race in Europe, with the US vowing to pull out of a Cold War weapons treaty in response to new Russian missiles.
The meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), the first since May, comes as the transatlantic alliance carries out its biggest military exercise since the end of the Cold War in Norway, a show of strength intended to deter any would-be aggressor — and which the Kremlin has criticized as “anti-Russian.”
NATO’s secretary-general said Tuesday he is confident that both the Western military alliance and Russia “will act in a respectable way” as the two sides hold drills in the same area in waters off Norway’s coast.
Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday as he attended the Trident Juncture war games in his native Norway that “this is not a Cold War situation,” stressing it is “purely to prevent, not to provoke.”
Russia has been briefed by NATO on the exercises and invited to monitor them, but the move has still angered the Russians.
The Russian missile tests will take place Nov. 1-3 off western Norway. The NATO drill, scheduled to end Nov. 7, takes place in central and eastern Norway, the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea.
“This is a necessary exercise” to “send a strong signal of unity,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he visited the NATO maneuvers that involve around 50,000 personnel from all 29 NATO allies, plus partners Finland and Sweden.
There also are 65 ships, 250 restoring Norway’s sovereignty after an aircraft and 10,000 vehicles in a hypothetical scenario that involves attack by a “fictitious aggressor.”
Hundreds of Finnish and Swedish air, infantry and naval troops will be involved with Trident Juncture, prompting Russia’s foreign ministry on Thursday to remind the two countries that NATO’s drill “fits within the policy of the United States toward making Europe less secure.”
Events over recent years — from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 to the deadly nerve agent attack in Britain in March, blamed on the Kremlin — have seen tensions between NATO and Russia soar.
But the two sides have maintained regular dialogue in Brussels and ambassadors from the 29 NATO countries will meet their Russian counterpart on Wednesday, an alliance official said.
“This is part of NATO’s twin-track approach of strong defense and meaningful dialogue with Russia, and will be the eighth meeting of the NRC in the last two years,” the official said.
No details of the agenda have been published but a European diplomat said Russia had asked for discussion of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans mid-range missiles.
US President Donald Trump sparked concerns earlier this month when he announced he was pulling out of the INF treaty, a pillar of Cold War disarmament, in response to Russia’s deployment of a missile system Washington says breaches the accord.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned last week that abandoning the INF agreement could lead to a new arms race, and vowed to respond in kind if the US deployed any new missiles on European soil.
Trump’s move is not backed by all NATO members and alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg has insisted there is no desire for reviving the Cold War or starting a new arms race.
Wednesday’s talks are also expected to cover the Ukraine crisis, the war in Afghanistan and military transparency.


Pakistan reopens airspace to civil aviation after India standoff

Updated 16 July 2019
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Pakistan reopens airspace to civil aviation after India standoff

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan opened its airspace to civil aviation on Tuesday, following months of restrictions imposed in the wake of a standoff with neighboring India.
“With immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes,” according to a so-called Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) published on the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority’s website.
The move by Pakistan, which lies in the middle of a vital aviation corridor, offers a welcome break for international airlines after the airspace restrictions affected hundreds of commercial and cargo flights each day, adding to flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.
India’s ministry of civil aviation said that after the lifting of the NOTAMS, there were no further restrictions on airspace in either country.
“Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,” it said.
Pakistan closed its airspace in February after an attack by a Pakistan-based militant group in Indian-controlled Kashmir led to an armed standoff between the two nuclear-armed powers.
Both countries carried out aerial attacks over the other’s territory and warplanes fought a brief dogfight over the skies of the disputed Kashmir region during which an Indian fighter jet was shot down.
Partial operations at Pakistani airports resumed once the immediate crisis passed but restrictions continued to affect many international carriers using Pakistani airspace.
Pakistan’s announcement came hours after United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it was extending the suspension of its flights from the United States to Delhi and Mumbai in India until Oct. 26, citing continued restrictions of Pakistani airspace.