Brussels: NATO will soon hold its first formal talks with Russia since 2014, its head said today, signalling a thaw in ties deeply strained by the Ukraine crisis.
A meeting of NATO and Russian ambassadors will take place in the next two weeks at the US-led alliance's Brussels headquarters, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced in a statement.
NATO envoys and their Russian counterparts had met regularly until the Ukraine crisis plunged relations with Moscow into a deep freeze reminiscent of the Cold War.
They last convened in June 2014 amid mutual recriminations over who was to blame, with NATO incensed by Moscow's annexation of Crimea in March that year.
Stoltenberg said the meeting would focus on the Ukraine crisis and "the need to fully implement" the Minsk ceasefire accords, which have produced a very tenuous calm in eastern Ukraine where Russia backs pro-Moscow rebels.
The two sides will also look at military activities, "with particular focus on transparency and risk reduction," plus the situation in Afghanistan and "regional terrorist threats," he said.
He said the meeting represented a continuation of a political dialogue as agreed by NATO leaders but warned "there will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law."
Stoltenberg has always insisted the NATO-Russia council remained open as a channel of communication despite the breakdown in relations sparked by Russia's intervention in Ukraine.
A NATO official told AFP that "in difficult times it is good to talk. It shows we are committed to continue the political dialogue."
The official, who asked not to be named, said Stoltenberg had discussed the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met in Munich in February.
There will now be further consultations to fix a date for the meeting, the official added.
The Ukraine crisis sparked a major re-think within NATO which was taken by surprise over how quickly events unfolded in early 2014.
More worrying still, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be way ahead of the curve in hybrid warfare, exploiting conventional military and social media assets to destabilise the Ukraine government as the rebels consolidated their position.