NATO and Russia agree more high-level talks despite building tensions

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says talks about Ukraine would not be easy amid tensions over Moscow's military build-up.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the military organisation and Russia have agreed to try to set up more meetings to ease tensions.

This comes after deep concern in the West about whether Moscow might order an invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, Mr Stoltenberg said both parties had "expressed the need to dialogue and explore a schedule of future meetings".

The Secretary General added that any talks about Ukraine would not be easy.

Mr Stoltenberg said: "There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on this issue."

He underlined that Ukraine has the right to decide its future security arrangements on its own, and that NATO would continue to leave its door open to new members, rejecting a key demand by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the military organisation halts its expansion.

The Secretary General added: "No-one else has anything to say and, of course, Russia does not have a veto."

Emily Ferris, Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, said NATO's movement of "security architecture" to Eastern Europe's former Warsaw Pact states, including Estonia and Poland, is seen by Russia as "somewhat of an aggressive act".

Russia considers countries like Ukraine "within its sphere of political and security interests," she added.

Watch: NATO chief – 'We will never compromise' on Ukraine's rights. 

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has condemned Russia's military build-up near Ukraine, adding:

"What happens next will be absolutely critical to peace and security in Europe. The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and engage in meaningful discussions."

The NATO-Russia Council was the first meeting of its kind in more than two years.

The forum was set up two decades ago but full meetings were paused when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, with it then only meeting sporadically since, the last time in July 2019.

In April 2021, the European Union estimated 100,000 troops had gathered near Ukraine's border – with only "a spark" needed to start a confrontation.

NATO responded by calling for the exercises to come to an end, with Mr Stoltenberg calling Russia's actions "unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning".