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NATO, Russia discuss air safety talks but differ on Ukraine

Associated Press logo Associated Press 19/12/2016 By LORNE COOK, Associated Press

BRUSSELS — NATO and Russia remain at loggerheads over Ukraine, the alliance's top official said Monday, but have discussed a proposal to try to improve air safety over the Baltic Sea.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 28-nation military alliance and Russia "have profound disagreements on the crisis" in Ukraine.

He said NATO allies "reiterated their strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and insisted that they would never "recognize Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea."

Stoltenberg's remarks came after the NATO-Russia Council, their main forum for dialogue, met in Brussels Monday for more than three hours.

In a statement later, Russia's NATO ambassador, Alexander Grushko, said that he had raised Ukrainian cease-fire violations with the allies, notably through the use of heavy weapons. NATO members have also accused Russia of similar violations.

He also called on the alliance to urge Ukraine to respect its commitments.

It was the third time this year that diplomats have tried to resolve some of their differences.

The meeting included talks on ways to avoid incidents and accidents between Russian and NATO forces.

Russia has annoyed NATO with snap war games or by buzzing the alliance's ships and aircraft with fighter jets, as well as what NATO sees as aggressive use of propaganda.

Finland proposed that technical talks be held to help ensure that pilots act more responsibly, and Grushko was upbeat about the idea, involving military and civilian experts.

The two sides exchanged some information on respective military exercises.

Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told ABC news on Sunday that "I don't believe that anyone in Russia today intends to attack NATO."

But Lute said "I worry about attempts by Russia ... to influence political campaigns, flooding allied capitals, the news media with misinformation or disinformation and all these with an attempt to fragment internally our societies, perhaps distort our political processes and to sow discontent and a lack of cohesion across the allies."

Grushko, said a major factor in the deterioration of ties was the alliance's "reinforcement of military infrastructure along the Russian borders," and he called on NATO to stop its military activities there.

NATO suspended cooperation with Russia in April 2014 over Moscow's role in Ukraine. Formal talks resumed in April after an almost two-year break.

Stoltenberg underlined that the new meeting "does not indicate a return to business as usual."

Efforts to organize Monday's talks were hampered by a dispute over the meeting agenda. Grushko said it went ahead without a formal agenda being set.

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