Russia and Britain hold high-level military talks in Moscow to ease tensions

A jet takes off from a Russian aircraft carrier near the coast of Syria.
A jet takes off from a Russian aircraft carrier near the coast of Syria.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP) - Senior Russian and British military officials held rare talks in Moscow on Tuesday (Feb 28) aimed at avoiding clashes and lowering tensions that have spiked to their highest levels since the Cold War.

Russia's deputy chief of staff Alexander Zhuravlyov and his British counterpart, vice-chief of staff Gordon Messenger, "discussed the state and prospects for re-establishing military cooperation", the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

Ties between Russia and Britain have frayed in the wake of Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its military intervention in Syria.

The statement said the talks focused on "possible steps to lower tensions, develop mutual trust and prevent incidents during military activities".

Britain's Ministry of Defence called the meeting "an important opportunity in terms of managing risk and avoiding miscalculation."

"They discussed military issues including opportunities to reduce risks in the conduct of our respective defence activity," it said in a statement.

Russia is carrying out a bombing campaign in Syria to support the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, while Britain is part of a US-led coalition targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group.

Moscow and the coalition have a "deconfliction" system in place to avoid mid-air collisions or clashes over Syria, but they do not coordinate their strikes.

Britain has been one of the strongest opponents of Russian aggression in Ukraine and has sent troops to eastern Europe to bolster Nato's presence in the region.

Officials in London have also been on edge as British jets have repeatedly been scrambled in response to a reported increase in Russian manoeuvres near Britain.