NATO is a defensive alliance, whose purpose is to protect its member states. The exercises and military deployments are not directed against Russia – or any other country. NATO announces its military exercises well in advance and they are subject to international observation. NATO notifies Russia throughout the year about its exercises. In 2016, for example, Russian military experts visited 13 Allied exercises. This demonstrates the transparency of NATO military activities. In direct response to Russia's use of military force against its neighbours, NATO has deployed four multinational battlegroups to the Baltic States and Poland. These forces are rotational, defensive and proportionate. They cannot compare to the three divisions Russia has established in its Western Military and Southern Military Districts. Before Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, there were no plans to deploy Allied troops to the eastern part of the Alliance. NATOäs aim is to prevent conflict, protect our Allies, and preserve the peace. NATO remains open to meaningful dialogue with Russia. NATO has held five meetings of the NATO-Russia Council since April 2016. Talking to Russia allows NATO to communicate clearly our positions. The crisis in and around Ukraine remains the first topic on NATO's agenda. NATO will continue the dialogue, including with representatives of Russian civil society. See more on NATO-Russia-relations here. After a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in July 2017, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that "Dialogue can be difficult, but it is also essential and in times of raised tensions, such as now, it is particularly important to keep channels of communication open. - - - Our discussion was frank and constructive. Allies and Russia may hold different views but we are committed to continuing our dialogue as part of our commitment to preserving peace and security."