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Soldiers with the Ukrainian national guard's 3029th Regiment fire an RPG toward a mock target during a platoon live-fire exercise June 6, 2015, as part of Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade are in Ukraine for the first of several planned rotations to train Ukraine's newly-formed national guard.

Soldiers with the Ukrainian national guard's 3029th Regiment fire an RPG toward a mock target during a platoon live-fire exercise June 6, 2015, as part of Fearless Guardian in Yavoriv, Ukraine. Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade are in Ukraine for the first of several planned rotations to train Ukraine's newly-formed national guard. (Alexander Skripnichuk/U.S. Army)

Prominent former diplomats, ministers and government leaders from Europe and Russia are jointly recommending NATO and Moscow adopt new rules of conduct to ensure recent close military encounters don’t accidentally spark a war.

“In our view, the situation is ripe with potential for either dangerous miscalculation or an accident that could trigger a further worsening of the crisis or even a direct military confrontation between Russia and the West,” the group said in a paper issued Wednesday by the European Leadership Network, a London-based pan-European network focusing on security issues.

Since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine last year and its backing of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, NATO and Russia have both stepped up exercises in close proximity to each other and there have been several incidents of close military encounters in the air and sea.

The panel recommended urgently convening the NATO-Russia Council to discuss adopting a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the alliance and Russia focusing on rules for air and maritime encounters. Such an agreement should resemble a similar one signed last year between the United States and China, the group said.

The memorandum should require both sides to communicate plans for military maneuvers involving warships and military aircraft and “avoid simulations of attacks by aiming guns, missiles, fire control radar, torpedo tubes or other weapons in the direction of military vessels and military aircraft encountered.” Both sides also should agree to specific radio frequencies to be used for communication as well as signals to be used in the event there is a language barrier between respective commanding officers.

The group, calling itself the Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe, said non-NATO members Sweden and Finland should be included in the discussion because they also are on the Baltic Sea. Both countries also have had close encounters with Russian military aircraft.

NATO has reported that it conducted 400 intercepts of Russian aircraft in 2014, a number four times higher than the previous year.

Meanwhile, both NATO and Russia have increased the number and size of military exercises during the past year. NATO, which publishes its exercise plan, has criticized Moscow for conducting snap exercises with little or no notification.

In return, Russia has lashed out at the increased presence of U.S. and other NATO troops in the Baltics — close to Russia’s second-largest city of St. Petersburg and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad — as well as a U.S. plan to pre-position tanks and other heavy equipment in eastern Europe.

The task force argued that both Russia and NATO are “convinced that (their) actions are justified by the negative changes in their security environment.”

While the current “action-reaction cycle” will be difficult to stop, steps should be taken to reduce tensions between “a nuclear armed state on one hand and a nuclear armed alliance on the other.”

“History is littered with examples of international crises and tensions that developed a momentum of their own and resulted in conflict even when no one side intended it,” the paper warned.

The signatories, who include former British, Russian, French, Polish and Turkish foreign and/or defense ministers, “are convinced that this objective should be pursued with utmost urgency,” it said. “The future of Euro-Atlantic security might very well depend on it.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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