Russian Defense Ministry officers seen at the National Defense Management Center, Moscow.Alexander Vilf/RIA Novosti
The conversation took place on NATO’s initiative, said the Russian Defense Ministry, and the main topics discussed were issues of "ensuring security in Europe, resuming interaction along military lines, incident prevention, as well as NATO representatives’ participation in international events held by the Russian Defense Ministry."
The Ministry stressed that it was the first military contact at this level since the NATO council decided three years ago to freeze relations with Russia.
"Valery Gerasimov drew his interlocutor’s attention to existing concerns over a significant increase in the North Atlantic Alliance’s military activity near Russian borders, as well as the deployment of a forward-based system of the NATO Joint Armed Forces," the press release said.
At the end of the talks, "the sides confirmed the need for mutual steps aimed at reducing tensions, and stabilizing the situation in Europe." They also "agreed to continue similar contacts."
Tensions in relations between Russia and NATO worsened in 2014 during the so-called "Crimean crisis," when the people of Crimea voted to rejoin Russia after Ukraine collapsed into anarchy following a putsch in Kiev.
Then NATO secretary general Fogh Rasmussen saw Russia's support of Crimean self-determination as a threat not only to the sovereignty of Ukraine but to European security in general. The North Atlantic Alliance responded by taking the first steps to strengthen its military presence in NATO member countries in Eastern Europe. Throughout this time dialogue between the two sides was maintained exclusively through the Russia-NATO Council, whose work was resumed only last year after a two-year hiatus.
NATO's readiness to improve relations with Russia has been repeatedly stated by the current secretary general of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg. He is actively promoting the concept of a new strategy towards Russia, which implies "defense" in combination with "dialogue." For its part, Moscow has repeatedly ruled out the possibility that Russia would make an unprovoked attack against any NATO member state.
Russia's dialogue with NATO member countries has become particularly active recently. On Feb. 28, Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff Col. General Alexander Zhuravlev had a meeting in Moscow with General Gordon Messenger, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff of the Armed Forces of Great Britain. Both sides agreed to resume military cooperation.
On the following day, March 1, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin had a meeting with the French ambassador to Russia. One of the topics discussed was Russia-NATO relations.
Dmitry Danilov, head of the European Security Department at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that one of the main initiatives that may have been discussed is better transparency in the Baltic Sea area, the so-called "transponder initiative." It requires transition to consultations between military specialists; hence, the telephone call.
"What happened today is very important. NATO took this step, and, basically we are talking about unfreezing military contacts," Danilov said, adding that this positive signal from the North Atlantic Alliance corresponds with the overall trend towards establishing a dialogue with the West that is underway both in relations with the new U.S. administration and in Russian-British relations.
First published in Russian by Gazeta.ru