BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO’s new leader offered an olive branch to Russia on Wednesday, saying he saw no contradiction between a strong alliance and building a constructive relationship with Moscow.
Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who took over on Wednesday as NATO secretary-general, struck a more conciliatory tone towards Moscow than his Danish predecessor Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Stoltenberg said Russia needed to demonstrate a clear change in its actions and to comply with international law over Ukraine, where Moscow has annexed the Crimea region and supports pro-Russian separatists in the east.
But, speaking at his first news conference at NATO headquarters, he said: “I see no contradiction between a strong NATO and our continued effort to build a con-structive relationship with Russia. Just the opposite.”
The ceasefire in Ukraine offered an opportunity, Stoltenberg said, although he said Russia maintained its ability to destabilise Ukraine.
Stoltenberg, 55, who in his youth was an anti-war activist, is known for his skills in forging compromise and for his knowledge of Russia.
As prime minister, he negotiated a deal with Russia in 2010 that ended a four-decade dispute over their Arctic maritime borders and built a personal friendship with then-president Dmitry Medvedev.
Stoltenberg takes over at a time when NATO is wrapping up its com-bat mission in Afghanistan but faces new challenges from a resurgent Russia to the east and Islamic State militants on the southern border of NATO ally Turkey.