Russia invites NATO experts for security talks

Russia invites NATO experts for security talks

Russia’s defence ministry said Monday it had invited NATO experts to Moscow for talks next month in a bid to increase security in Europe as tensions with the Western alliance linger.

The announcement comes after a string of incidents and near-misses in Baltic Sea airspace that fuelled strife between Moscow and NATO.

“NATO military experts are invited to Moscow in September 2016 for consultations on the military and political situation in Europe,” deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov said in a statement, without specifying specific dates.

Antonov said Russia considered the safety of military flights over the Baltic Sea a “priority” and that representatives of non-NATO members in the region had also be invited for the talks.

Russia’s NATO-member Baltic neighbours have accused Moscow of regularly violating their airspace in recent months and flying with switched-off transponders, devices which allow radars to identify planes and prevent collisions.

President Vladimir Putin last month backed a call for all military aircraft flying over the Baltic region to keep their transponders on.

A NATO official in Brussels told AFP the alliance had received details of the “several proposals” for cooperation Moscow had made at the NATO-Russia Council last month.

“Allies will consider them carefully, before determining next steps,” the official said.

“Reciprocal military transparency and risk reduction has considerable potential to improve stability and security in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

Relations between NATO and Russia have soured since Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula of Ukraine in March 2014, and eastern European countries are worried that they too could be targets of Russian aggression.

NATO vowed at a summit in Warsaw in July to bolster its eastern flank to counter a resurgent Russia, agreeing to deploy four battalions in Poland and the Baltic states.

Moscow slammed the decision, accusing NATO of working to counter a “non-existent threat.”

Russia’s defence ministry also said Monday that it was ready to hold consultations with the “defence ministries of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and Finland to address mutual concerns regarding military activities in the border areas.”