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Russia-NATO Council To Discuss Ukraine, Afghanistan


Russian ambassador to NATO Aleksandr Grushko (file photo)

The joint NATO-Russia Council is set to meet for a third time this year on October 26, with Ukraine and Afghanistan on the agenda.

NATO ambassadors and Russian envoy Aleksandr Grushko will gather at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, as relations between the West and Moscow have been seriously strained over Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and because of Moscow's backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between Kyiv's forces and the separatists who hold parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014. Several cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords -- signed in September 2014 and February 2015 pacts to put an end to the conflict -- have failed to hold.

Amid strained ties, there has been a series of potentially dangerous close encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes and naval vessels in recent months.

The Russia-NATO Council -- a forum intended to prevent tensions from escalating -- last met in July.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg's office said last week that the October 26 meeting will focus on the conflicts in Ukraine and Afghanistan, as well as on ways of reducing the risk of clashes and accidents during military exercises and border surveillance.

Petr Pavel, who is chief of NATO's Military Committee, said on October 25 that Afghanistan will be on the order of business because it is in the interest of both NATO and Russia to fight terrorism.

Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said last week he would address the NATO-Russia Council to explain Russia's assessment of the current situation in Afghanistan and its future potential, according to comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

The Western-backed government in Kabul is struggling to beat back insurgents in the wake of the exit of most NATO forces in 2014.

Asked about reports that Moscow is supplying arms to the Afghan Taliban, which U.S.-led coalition forces are fighting, Pavel said he had not seen any hard evidence of this.

However, he said he has seen reports that Russia is providing fuel to companies that in turn sell such fuel to the militants.

The commander of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told a U.S. Senate committee in February that Russia had significantly increased its covert and overt support for the Taliban, with a goal of "undermining the United States and NATO."

And in March, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, told U.S. lawmakers that he had seen evidence of increasing Russian efforts to influence the Taliban "and perhaps even to supply" the militant group.

He did not say if he meant weapons or other kinds of equipment.

Russia has rejected the allegations.

The NATO and Russian ambassadors are also expected to discuss the Zapad military exercise that Russia held with Belarus in September, which brought thousands of troops close to NATO's eastern members and caused concerns about Moscow's intentions given its military interference in Ukraine.

With reporting by dpa and AFP
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