MOSCOW: Russia’s top military boss was set to meet with a senior NATO commander in Baku on Thursday, as concerns swirled over major war games Moscow will hold next week with Belarus.
The Russian defense ministry said Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Petr Pavel, chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, would discuss “current issues of international security” in Azerbaijan, Russian news agencies reported.
The US-led alliance confirmed the encounter.
The talks come ahead of the joint “Zapad 2017” Russian exercises with Belarus next week which have stirred unease in Poland and the Baltic States.
Moscow says the “purely defensive” event will involve about 12,700 troops, but Lithuania and Estonia have said as many as 100,000 soldiers could take part.
French defense minister Florence Parly on Thursday condemned the coming drills on the border of the EU and NATO as a deliberate “strategy of intimidation.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that he saw no “imminent threat”, but that the alliance would “monitor the activity closely.”
Western officials have said the preparations for Zapad suggest it could be much bigger than Moscow has suggested, and Stoltenberg said the degree of openness about the drills did not meet international standards.
Three NATO experts have been invited to attend as observers, but Stoltenberg said this “fell short of the transparency required by the OSCE.”
Suspicions are high between NATO and Russia, with the alliance’s eastern members worried about Moscow’s increasing assertiveness after it seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Moscow has long railed against NATO expansion in its former sphere of influence.
NATO has deployed four battle groups—around 4,000 troops—to Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in recent years. AFP