EU invites Russia to take security concerns to OSCE
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The European Union member states wrote to Moscow on Wednesday to invite the Russian government to take its security concerns to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Russia has triggered a diplomatic crisis by deploying more than 100,000 troops to the Ukraine border and demanding the Western allies roll back their security presence in Western Europe.
The United States, NATO and several European leaders have held talks with President Vladimir Putin's government in a bid to defuse the crisis, while insisting on Kyiv's right to choose its own future.
But, while many EU members are in NATO and some have opened their own channels to Moscow, the 27-member European Union, as an institution, has been sidelined by Russia and is not part of the diplomatic process.
In a letter to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov handed to Russia's ambassador in Brussels on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, wrote "on our collective behalf".
On February 1, Lavrov had written to "the US, Canada and several European countries" to push Russia's demands and demanded "that the response to this letter will be given in the national capacity... and not within any bloc or in the name thereof".
But Borrell's response was approved by all EU members.
"Together with our partners in NATO, we in the European Union are prepared to continue dialogue with Russia on ways to strengthen the security of all," he wrote, according to a copy obtained by AFP.
But he stressed that Russia should take its complaints to the bodies it is already a member of, rather than open a new or multiple diplomatic channels to Brussels and the West.
"We believe that the OSCE is the appropriate forum to address security concerns of all interested parties, in complementarity with other existing formats including the NATO-Russia Council," he said.
The Vienna-based OSCE was set up during the Cold War as a security forum to reduce the risk of conflict in Europe. It has 57 members, including both Russia and the United States.
Russian officials attended a meeting of the OSCE permanent council in January, and it has become one of the venues for talks to de-escalate the crisis between Moscow, Kyiv and the Western allies.
The NATO-Russia council was set up in 2002 to provide a forum for Russia to talk directly to its Western rivals.
Its work was suspended after a meeting in July 2019 -- amid tensions over Russia's 2014 occupation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea -- but resumed for an emergency meeting in Brussels last month.
Aside from suggesting venues for talks, the EU letter also reiterated its concerns about Russia's escalation.
"We remain gravely concerned about the current situation and firmly believe that tensions and disagreements must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy," it said.
"We call on Russia to de-escalate and to reverse its military build-up in and around Ukraine, and in Belarus."