NATO seeks talks with Russia, after Trump-Putin call

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs the media in Brussels on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Updated 16 November 2016

NATO seeks talks with Russia, after Trump-Putin call

BRUSSELS: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday the military alliance wanted dialogue with Russia, after US president-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on Monday to work toward “constructive cooperation.”
“The message from NATO has been that we want dialogue with Russia. Russia is our biggest neighbor, Russia is there to stay and especially when tensions run high and especially when we face many different security challenges, it is important to have dialogue,” Stoltenberg told reporters before talks with EU defense ministers in Brussels.
He said Russia’s seizure of Crimea remained a major sticking point.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea was an unacceptable breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty, he added.
His message was echoed by German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen who said she was also concerned about Russia’s military activities in eastern Ukraine and Syria. “It is ... important not to forget our principles,” she added.
Germany and other European powers have said they are concerned about what Trump’s election win will mean for the United States’ commitment to NATO.
During campaign speeches, Trump had said Washington might not defend a NATO member who had not paid its contributions to the alliance and told ABC News in July he might recognize Crimea as Russian.
“The message from NATO has been that we want dialogue with Russia,” said Stoltenberg, whose country Norway borders Russia.
“Russia is our biggest neighbor, Russia is there to stay and especially when tensions run high and especially when we face many different security challenges, it is important to have dialogue.”
Stoltenberg said he hoped NATO envoys and Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, could meet in the NATO-Russia Council soon.
But he said: “We will never respect or accept the violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
The Kremlin says Crimea, where Moscow is building up its military presence, is Russian land and its status non-negotiable. In Putin’s call with Trump both men agreed “to normalize relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues,” according to a statement from the Kremlin.
The United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea in July 2014 and then tightened them in December 2014, banning EU citizens from buying or financing companies in Crimea, whose annexation has prompted the worst East-West stand-off since the Cold War.
Russia hopes the United States under Trump will repeal those measures, potentially pressuring the European Union to do the same.
Von der Leyen described the annexation of Crimea as “an open point.”
“We should also not forget that Russia bears a humanitarian responsibility in Aleppo, where 250,000 people are threatened with death from hunger,” she added, referring to the northern Syrian city where Russian air strikes are backing government forces against rebels.


Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

Updated 10 min 17 sec ago

Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

  • Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election
  • Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year

MOSCOW: A Russian diplomat said on Monday a group of more than 30 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus last week were only passing through Minsk and were on their way to an unnamed Latin American state.
Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election.
Russian officials have dismissed the accusation and described the men as employees of a private security firm. The Russian state says it does not use mercenaries.
The standoff could further strain relations between Minsk and its traditional ally Russia, which soured after the neighbors failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
“Their final destination was one of the states in the Latin American region,” the diplomat, Kirill Pletnyev, was quoted as saying on Monday by the Russian RIA news agency.
Belarus granted Pletnyev consular access to the detained men, RIA added. His quotes did not name the Latin American country or give any more details on the identity of the men.
Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year, describing them as military specialists.
On Friday, Alexander Agafonov, the head of the Belarusian investigative group that is handling the case, said the arrested men — some of whom were wearing army fatigues — had given “contradictory accounts” about their plans.
He was quoted as saying that 11 of the arrested men had told authorities they planned to fly on to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. Another said he did not know his destination, while three refused to make a statement.
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has said he wants a full explanation from Russia, faces his biggest electoral test in years on Aug. 9 as public anger swells over his handling of COVID-19, the economy and human rights.