High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, will be on a two-day visit to Ukraine today. The EU’s most senior Commissioner will first visit the eastern front of the country which borders Russia, where Moscow-backing separatists are fighting Ukrainian forces.
He will then move to Kiev to meet with government officials.
The trip comes as US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke last week to find a solution to Russia’s military build-up.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said Mr Biden had spoken with leaders across Europe about the situation on the Ukraine border, while Biden administration officials were in touch with NATO, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
But there was a feeling in the EU that the bloc may be left out of negotiations that are meant to begin in January between Russia and the US.
Mr Borrell complained last week that the bloc should have a seat a the negotiating table.
He told German daily Welt: “If Moscow, as announced, wants to talk about the security architecture in Europe and security guarantees from January, then this is not just a matter that concerns America and Russia.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has scheduled a special meeting of allied ambassadors and top Russian officials for next week as both sides seek dialogue to prevent open conflict over Ukraine, a NATO official said on Tuesday.
Worried about Russia’s military build-up along Ukraine’s border, the Western military alliance has been seeking a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council for months but the forum seemed in jeopardy after an espionage dispute in October.
The meeting of the council, 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.
Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion and end military cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia, which have territorial disputes with Russia.
Moscow also denies US assertions that it is planning an invasion of Ukraine and accuses Kiev of building up its own forces in the east of the country.
A NATO official said: “Any dialogue with Russia would have to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, address NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions… and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners.”
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Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, confirmed that Russian officials will attend the NATO meeting in Brussels.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and other senior Kremlin officials are expected to attend the Brussels talks, after meeting US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Geneva.
On January 13, talks will continue in the broader format of the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.
The EU’s Borrell, who was central to the bloc’s strategy of increased sanctions on top Russian officials in 2021, believes “the EU cannot be a neutral spectator in the negotiations if Russia really wants to discuss Europe’s security architecture”, according to an EU spokesperson.
The European Union sees Ukraine as a “strategic partner”, the spokesperson added.
EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss their next steps later in January.