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NATO to boost naval presence in Black Sea
by Staff Writers
Brussels (AFP) Feb 16, 2017


US and Russia agree to boost military communications: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) Feb 16, 2017 - The US and Russian militaries agreed to "enhance communications" after a meeting between their top commanders in Azerbaijan on Thursday, the Pentagon said.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford and his Russian counterpart Valery Gerasimov discussed military relations between the two countries as well as security in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere during their meeting in the capital Baku.

The two sides "have undertaken efforts to improve operational safety of military activities in order to decrease the prospects for crisis and avoid the risk of unintended incidents," the Pentagon said in a statement. "The leaders further agreed to enhance communications on such stabilizing measures."

The United States and Russia already maintain a permanent military communications line over their air operations in Syria to avoid incidents between their aircraft.

The last face-to-face meeting between the two highest US and Russian military officers took place in January 2014 between Gerasimov and Dunford's predecessor Martin Dempsey.

The Baku meeting comes amid widespread speculation about the future of US-Russian relations following US President Donald Trump's election.

He has said he wants to improve ties with Moscow, prompting concern among many US officials who view Russia as the main threat to US national security, amid a mounting scandal over ties between the Trump team's ties to Russia going back to his presidential campaign.

At a meeting of G20 ministers in the German city of Bonn on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Washington would conditionally consider working with Moscow in some areas, calling on Russia to honor the Minsk peace agreement aimed at ending hostilities in Ukraine.

In Brussels on Thursday, US Defense Secretary James Mattis rejected a Russian call to immediately restore cooperation with the Russian military.

"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward," he told reporters.

Washington suspended all military cooperation with Moscow following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

But their military leaders have continued to maintain direct contact by phone and video conferences, the Pentagon said.

NATO will step up naval war games and surveillance in the Black Sea to complement its increased presence of land and air forces near a more assertive Russia, the alliance said Thursday.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the decision taken by alliance defence ministers in Brussels was not designed to be a provocation at a time of heightened tension with Russia, which annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

"We agreed on... an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea for enhanced training, exercises and situational awareness," Stoltenberg said at a press conference.

Russia swiftly condemned the move.

This is "another step towards increasing tension in the regions that touch on Russia's vital interests," Russia's ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko told Russian news agencies.

"Of course all the necessary measures will be taken to ensure Russia's security interests in this region," he added.

A NATO official told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that the decision was taken to counter Russia's military buildup in the Black Sea and bolster the alliance's southeast flank after it sent troop reinforcements to the Baltic States and Poland in the northeast.

The official also said the goal was to bolster intelligence gathering, for example of Russian ground-to-air missiles in the region.

"We will have an increased presence in the Black Sea but it will be measured, it will be defensive and it will in no way be provoking any conflict or escalating tensions," Stoltenberg said.

"It is one element in a broader adaptation of NATO defence and deterrence to a more demanding and challenging security environment, including the Black Sea region," he said.

NATO allies Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania share the Black Sea coastline, as do partner countries Ukraine and Georgia, both of which have direct territorial disputes with Moscow.

The NATO official told AFP that it took the alliance about nine months since its Warsaw summit to work out the agreement, partly because Bulgaria did not want to be seen as provoking Moscow.

The source said the littoral states were also wary of the others' own military presence in the Black Sea, where they have had disputes over fishing rights and other issues.

The NATO official said the alliance also planned to step up air patrols over the Black Sea soon.


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US says not ready yet for Russian military collaboration as chiefs meet
Brussels (AFP) Feb 16, 2017
The United States is not yet ready to cooperate militarily with Russia, Pentagon chief James Mattis said Thursday after Moscow's defence minister called for better ties. "We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward," Mattis told reporters at a NATO summit in Brussels. Russian D ... read more


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