NATO told Moscow in a meeting on Thursday that a military exercise that Russia carried out jointly with Belarus close to European Union territory had significantly exceeded the number of troops and geographical scope previously announced.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made the statement at a press conference following the third NATO-Russia Council meeting of 2017.

"Today, we exchanged information on recent exercises. Allies made clear that the scale and geographical scope of exercise ZAPAD 2017 significantly exceeded what Russia had previously announced," said Stoltenberg, adding that it was very important to initiate dialogue with Russia.

The Norwegian politician added that frank and open discussions on several important issues were held during the meeting, normally organized to allow the two parties to address common interests.

"We also discussed transparency and risk reduction. This remains a vital issue for the NATO-Russia Council," added Stoltenberg.

NATO insists that Russia fulfills its commitment to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Vienna Document, which is an agreement relating to the transparency of military exercises.

On Oct. 6, Moscow announced the withdrawal of troops participating in the drill and Stoltenberg said that while they were evaluating the exercise, at the moment there was no evidence that Russian troops had remained in Belarus.

Stoltenberg said NATO members and Russia still had fundamental differences on the issue of Ukraine, where the eastern part of the country continues to be controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

"This conflict continues to have a profound impact on the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic region, and it remains the primary reason for the current state of NATO-Russia relations," he said.

He reiterated the need to completely implement the Minsk Protocol, which was an agreement to halt the war in Ukraine's Donbass region, and criticized ceasefire violations and the presence of heavy weapons close to the line of conflict.

Finally, the secretary general said that during the meeting they also had a frank discussion on the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, where NATO maintains a mission which plays an advisory and training role.

"Our analyses differ considerably. But we all share the same interest in ensuring security and stability in Afghanistan," he said.