On July 13, the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) met at the level of ambassadors in Brussels, days after the July 8-9 NATO summit in Warsaw. The meeting focused on the Ukrainian crisis and on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed that Russia's actions in Ukraine had undermined Euro-Atlantic security and NATO-Russia relations, adding that a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian crisis would contribute to improved NATO-Russia relations. Stoltenberg said of the gathering, "There was not a meeting of the minds." However, despite major disagreements, NATO welcomed Russia's proposal to ensure air safety in the Baltic Sea, originally suggested by the Finnish President Sauli Niinisto during a July 1 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian media also reported that "military personnel" took part in the NRC meeting.
In advance of the NRC meeting, the director-general of the pro-Kremlin Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Andrey Kortunov said: "The... NRC meeting will be a sort of thermometer that will allow us to measure the temperature of Moscow's relations with the West. It's quite clear that today they are at a fever point... "It's good to have such a thermometer even though it will not be able to replace an aggressive treatment."
NATO froze all practical cooperation with Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014. However, the NRC continued to operate, in order to keep political dialogue channels open. Yesterday's meeting was its third since the cooperation freeze; its first was June 2, 2014, and its second was April 20, 2016.
Also on July 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Hollande; in the conversation, the three leaders exchanged views on the outcome of the NATO summit in Warsaw and expressed "a mutual desire to pursue constructive dialogue and take concrete steps to strengthen confidence between Russia and NATO." On July 14, U.S. Secretary John Kerry is scheduled to be received by Putin in Moscow, and they will discuss the Syria and Ukraine crises.
NATO-Russia Council (Source: Sputniknews.com, July 13, 2016)
Russian Special Envoy To NATO Grushko: "[NATO's] Measures Are... Confrontational... Bringing Us Back To The Safety Models Of The Cold War"
At the NRC meeting, Russian envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko criticized the outcome of the NATO summit in Warsaw, in which NATO members agreed to deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland on a rotational basis. Grushko stated that the deployment of additional NATO personnel close to Russian borders is confrontational, saying: "We believe these measures are superfluous [and] counterproductive; they are confrontational, essentially weakening pan-European and regional security while bringing us back to the safety models of the Cold War era." He also stated that Moscow represents no threat to NATO members, and that the threat is actually posed by NATO's "military planning and military preparations" at Russia's borders. He specifically raised concern at the increased militarization of the Baltic States: "The danger lies in the fact that today's confrontational policy, which is built on the basis of the mythical threat from Russia, takes the form of military planning and military preparations at our borders. In fact, the East European members of the alliance, who declared themselves the frontline becomes a springboard for military deployments and the provision of military and political pressure on Russia."
Another main reason of concern for Russia is the U.S./NATO missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Grushko noted that the system poses "a threat to Russia" and added that Moscow will do everything needed to "ensure the security" of its territory.
As the U.S. holds dogs representing NATO member countries, it says to Russia: "Hey, open up, I want to come to talk!" Russia responds, "Here, people don't come visit with their dogs!" Vitaly Podvitsky, Ria.ru, July 11, 2016.
Russian FM Lavrov: In NATO, There Is A "Desire To Perpetuate An Artificial Image Of Russia As An Enemy"
On the day of the NRC meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that in NATO there prevails "the desire to perpetuate an artificial image of Russia as an enemy," in order "to enforce unity" in its ranks and consolidate positions. Talking from Kazakhstan's capital Astana, where he attended the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Caspian States, Lavrov said: "Unfortunately, our NATO partners are again uniting on the basis of the lowest common denominator, which is formed by the openly Russophobic minority in Western nations."
Concerning relationship with NATO, Lavrov stated: "It was not us who broke off the agreements on counterterrorism cooperation or who froze all cooperation to support the Afghan security forces so they can more effectively fight ISIS and other radicals. It was not us who suspended all other forms of cooperation between Russia and NATO. When our partners announced that they were willing to hold today's Russia-NATO Council meeting, I heard someone saying that they presented it as a gesture of goodwill. They said they agreed to hold the Russia-NATO Council meeting. They did not agree to hold it, because we didn't ask them to. If they froze this mechanism, then it's up to them to take steps to revive it. They did ask us to agree to a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council. We met them halfway because, by and large, we never turn down a conversation. I hope that this will be a responsible conversation, not a show for the public, not a staged event to score some propaganda points, but rather a conversation that is consistent with the grave situation that has developed in the wake of NATO's policy on military and political security in Europe."
With regard to future NRC activities, Lavrov said that Russia knows for a fact that leading NATO countries, primarily European, have called for the council to meet regularly again. Lavrov then added: "But the minority, that derives immense pleasure from adopting Russophobic positions, completely blocked this proposal, saying that they will have to meet before they can take a decision. It looks like that they are playing a game of their own and fail to understand the important events that are unfolding."
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6522, Following The NATO Summit In Warsaw July 8-9 And Ahead Of The NATO-Russia Council Meeting On July 13 - An Interim Review, July 13, 2016.
 Nato.int, July 13, 2016.
 Nato.int, July 13, 2016.
 Sputniknews.com, July 13, 2016.
 Sputniknews.com, July 13, 2016.
 Kremlin.ru, July 13, 2016.
 Tass.ru, July 14, 2016.
 Rt.com, July 13, 2016.
 Mid.ru, July 13, 2016.