NATO Chief Urges Improved Dialogue With Russia: 'It's Possible to Make Deals'

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged member states Tuesday to believe in the possibility of improved dialogue with Russia, as the transatlantic alliance's leaders gather in London for a meeting on Wednesday.

The leaders meeting comes at the end of NATO's 70th year, with cracks appearing between key alliance members over a range of issues including a potential detente with its historic adversary Russia.

Russia's recent foreign policy belligerence has given the Cold War-era pact a shot in the arm, prompting collective soul-searching and increased military investment after a period of record low spending.

NATO strengthened its military presence in eastern Europe following Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukrainian Crimea and Moscow's subsequent support for separatist fighters in the east of the country.

Some NATO members have argued for a tougher line with Russia in response to Moscow's actions in Ukraine, active measures and covert operations across North America and Europe, and significant military technology sales to key NATO members.

But before this week's events, French President Emmanuel Macron told fellow NATO leaders that Russia is no longer the alliance's enemy. And on Tuesday, President Donald Trump told reporters in the White House press travel pool that Russia "may or may not be a foe—can't tell you that, but there are other foes out there also."

Speaking at the NATO Engages event in central London on Tuesday, Stoltenberg attempted to tread the fine line between confrontation and rapprochement with Russia.

The former Norwegian prime minister said he remains a true believer in a dual strategy of diplomacy and deterrence with regards to Russia, even in an era of frosty relations with Moscow.

"As long as we are strong, as long as we are firm, we can engage in dialogue with Russia," he explained. "It's possible to make deals with Russia," Stoltenberg added, suggesting NATO "could do more and should do more on dialogue."

Even if current events preclude restored relations with Russia in the near future, Stoltenberg stressed it was vital to maintain contact to avoid accidents or escalation that could result in "dangerous situations."

Dialogue could pay dividends in arms control, the secretary general said, an area where there has recently been a "serious setback" in the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Both Russia and the U.S. have announced their intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, which removed thousands of nuclear-capable missiles from Europe's Cold War frontlines. The failure of the accord has raised fears that a new arms race will develop on the continent.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at the NATO Engages event in London, U.K. on December 3, 2019. Getty/TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP