NATO chief plans special meeting with Russia amid Ukraine crisis

BRUSSELS, Jan.4 (Reuters) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has scheduled a special meeting of Allied ambassadors and Russian senior officials next week as the two sides seek dialogue to prevent open conflict over the ‘Ukraine, a NATO official said on Tuesday.

Worried about Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s border, the Western military alliance has called for a NATO-Russia Council meeting for months, but the forum appeared to be in danger after a spy dispute in October.

The council meeting, a format used for dialogue since 2002, will take place in Brussels on January 12 after US and Russian officials hold security talks on January 10 in Geneva.

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The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, visited Ukraine on Tuesday for a two-day trip to show his support for Kiev, which aspires to join the bloc and NATO.

Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will stop its eastward expansion and end military cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia, which have territorial disputes with Russia.

Moscow also denies US claims that it is planning an invasion of Ukraine and accuses Kiev of strengthening its own forces in the east of the country.

“Any dialogue with Russia should take place on the basis of reciprocity, respond to NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions (…) and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners,” said declared the NATO official.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Russian officials will attend the NATO meeting in Brussels.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and other senior Russian officials are expected to attend the talks in Brussels, after meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Geneva.

On January 13, talks will continue in the larger Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) format, which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as the Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.

Borrell of the EU, who was at the heart of the bloc’s strategy of increased sanctions against senior Russian officials in 2021, believes that “the EU cannot be a neutral spectator in the negotiations if Russia is serious about discussing the issue. ‘security architecture of Europe,’ according to an EU spokesperson.

The European Union regards Ukraine as a “strategic partner”, the spokesperson said.

Borrell, accompanied by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, will visit Ukraine’s line of contact with Russia-backed separatist rebels during his visit. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss their next steps later in January.

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Additional reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Nick Macfie

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Christi C. Elwood