Ukraine Tops Agenda Of Tillerson, Lavrov Talks At OSCE Meeting

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plan to meet for face-to-face talks about Ukraine’s conflict on December 7 during the annual Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The Russian and U.S. officials were expected to discuss their differences over a proposal to send armed United Nations peacekeepers into eastern Ukraine in order to bolster the unarmed OSCE monitors who are already deployed there.

Moscow and Washington disagree over the mandate that the proposed UN force would have.

The Kremlin says the UN mission should have the powers to protect OSCE monitors in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting Ukrainian government troops.

But Western powers fear President Vladimir Putin wants to limit the force’s mandate in a way that any cease-fire would merely consolidate the gains of Russia-backed separatists.

Tillerson has said Washington wants the proposed UN force to have additional peacekeeping powers. That could include the authority to disarm Russia-backed separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.

On December 6, a day before the start of the two-day Vienna conference, Tillerson said at NATO headquarters in Brussels that “Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security.”

He was referring to Moscow’s seizure and illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Russia’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“We prioritize ending the violence,” Tillerson said. “That’s our first priority, and to seek to do that we need to put a peacekeeping force in place.”

The OSCE has deployed 600 unarmed monitors in eastern Ukraine to investigate and discourage cease-fire violations. They often come under fire from the warring factions.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry indicated that Lavrov would also highlight NATO military deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank during the OSCE gathering.

Andrei Kelin, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s European Cooperation Department, told Interfax on December 7 that he expects contacts and talks at the OSCE gathering to help deescalate tensions in relations between Russia and the West.

“First and foremost, we see the OSCE Ministerial Council as a space for dialogue and the restoration of trust, which has paramount importance amid the currently confrontational atmosphere in European security,” Kelin said.

OSCE Secretary-General Thomas Greminger said ahead of the two-day meeting that the risk of military confrontation in Europe is rising amid tensions between NATO and Russia.

Foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the 57 OSCE member countries and 11 partner states were also expected to discuss ways to promote human rights and media freedom, and to fight against terrorism.

With reporting by dpa, Interfax, Reuters, and AP

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