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Russia, NATO military chiefs in first high-level contact since 2014

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The combo file photo shows Chief of Russia's General Staff Valery Gerasimov (R) and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee General Petr Pavel.

In the first high-level contact after NATO unilaterally froze ties with Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, military chiefs from Russia and the Western alliance have held a phone conversation.

"This is the first high-level military contact after the NATO Council made a decision on the freeze of relations with Russia," Russia's Defense Ministry said on Friday.

It also said the chief of Russia's General Staff, First Deputy Defense Minister Army General Valery Gerasimov, had held the telephone talk with NATO's chairman of military committee, General Petr Pavel.

The two sides, the Russian Defense Ministry said, exchanged opinions about current security issues.

The Russian side also relayed Moscow's security concerns regarding NATO's "considerable" buildup of military activity near Russian borders.

NATO's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, confirmed the phone conversation. It said "active military to military lines of communications are in the mutual interest of NATO and Russia."

The NATO headquarters added that the frozen communication lines would "remain open," without giving any details about what was discussed during the latest talks.

NATO severed ties with Moscow in 2014, after Crimea in eastern Ukraine rejoined the Russian Federation following a historic referendum. Since then, NATO has been deploying weapons and equipment close to Russia's borders.

In early January, the US military began the deployment of hundreds of combat vehicles such as tanks and artillery guns along with 3,500 troops to Germany.

The file photo shows US soldiers standing next to M1 Abrams tanks deployed for NATO's Operation Atlantic Resolve in Garkalne, Latvia, February 8, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

In mid-February, Russia's President Vladimir Putin accused NATO of trying to embroil Moscow in confrontation by constant provocative actions.

NATO "has been expanding as it did before but now they seem to have found new serious reason to justify the bloc's expansion and have sped up the process of deploying conventional and strategic weapons beyond the member states' borders," the Russian president said at a board meeting of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Russia's Defense Ministry said that during the phone conversation both military leaders agreed to make efforts to reduce tensions. "The sides confirmed the need of mutual steps aimed at reducing tension and stabilizing the situation in Europe."

"The two generals agreed that they would remain in contact," the ministry added.

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