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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Russia’s Lavrov insists goals in Ukraine are unchanged as he faces criticism at security talks

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday his government was not prepared to “review its goals” in Ukraine — delivering a blunt and confrontational message to Western leaders on a rare trip to a NATO member state.

“We aren’t seeing any signals from Kyiv or its masters about their readiness to seek any kind of political settlement,” Lavrov told reporters while attending a security conference in North Macedonia.

“We see no reason to review our goals,” he said.

North Macedonia, which joined NATO in 2020, waived a flight ban on Russian officials so that Lavrov could attend the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, prompting the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to skip the meeting in protest.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in North Macedonia’s capital of Skopje before Lavrov arrived.

Participants at the two-day conference accused Moscow of undermining the OSCE. The Vienna, Austria-based organization — originally created to ease Cold War tensions — includes countries from North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union.

“It is Russia that is waging an unprovoked and unlawful war against Ukraine, and it is Russia that is obstructing the OSCE agenda,” Katrina Kaktina, Latvia’s representative at the organization said Friday.

“Russia is continuing violations of human rights: deliberate killings of civilians, including children, forced deportations, tactics of torture and sexual violence. Those are war crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine,” she said.

Speaking at a news conference in Skopje, Lavrov accused Western countries of showing cowardice by refusing to meet with him.

“They probably want to emphasize their intention to isolate Russia but I think they just chickened out,” Lavrov said during the briefing that lasted over an hour.

“They’re afraid of any honest conversation,” he said. “It’s cowardice, simple cowardice.”

While in Skopje, Lavrov held several bilateral meetings including talks with the foreign ministers of Armenia and North Macedonia as well as with Peter Szijjarto, the foreign minister of Hungary which has maintained close ties with Moscow despite European Union sanctions. Gatopoulos reported from Athens.

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