NATO, Russian officials clash over who's to blame for state of East-West relations

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BRUSSELS — Top officials from NATO and Russia clashed sharply in public Friday over who is to blame for the dramatically worsened state of East-West relations.

"The big difference is that we are a defensive alliance," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a member of Russia's parliament. "You send troops into other countries."

The Russian, Konstantin Kosachev, flatly denied Russia is using its regular troops in Ukraine. He said the U.S.-led alliance talks a lot these days about the need to respect international law and a country's borders and sovereignty, but that it had bombed a sovereign nation, the former Yugoslavia, in 1999.

Stoltenberg and Kosachev, who is the chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia's Federation Council, spoke at a panel discussion organized by the Brussels Forum, an annual event sponsored by the German Marshall Fund think tank. The discussion, in which U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the European Union's foreign affairs chief, Federica Mogherini, also took part, provided repeated and stark evidence of how deep the divide between Russia and the West has become.

At one point, Mogherini said the exchanges seemed to her to come from another century.

When the discussion turned to the growing threat of cyber-attacks being used to undermine a country's economy or security, a tactic of hybrid warfare that many Western sources suspect the Russians of engaging in, Kosachev asked Stoltenberg point-blank if NATO would bomb a country it held responsible for such an assault.

Nuland jumped in, asking the Russian lawmaker if he was posing a "planning question."

Stoltenberg gave a deliberately murky answer.

"We will do what's necessary to do to protect all allies," he said. "But I'm not going to tell you exactly how I'm going to do that...that's the main message."

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