Russia invited Joly to visit Moscow: ambassador

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Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly has an “open invitation” to visit Moscow to meet with Russian officials, an offer first made in December, Ambassador to Canada Oleg Stepanov says.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Time, which will air on Sunday, Stepanov said the Russian government would welcome the meeting.

“Your Excellency Joly had a chance to chat with her [Foreign] minister [Sergei] Lavrov on the sidelines of the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last December in Stockholm and expressed interest in coming to Moscow for consultations at some point, and my minister issued the official invitation,” he said.

“Canada is a really important and vocal player in the NATO camp right now, in the situation around Ukraine.”

Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along various regions of Ukraine’s border, raising concerns about a full-scale invasion there. Russia denies any intention of invading.

Stepanov added that Russia is still awaiting a response from the Canadian government to the planned visit, which is an “open invitation”.

“If the Canadian government is ready, they will be welcomed. We are happy to receive Minister Joly in Russia or they can meet at any other place during multilateral events,” he said.

Joly’s office confirmed to CTV News that they had received the invitation and that they have not yet responded.

“Minister Joly already met briefly with Foreign Minister Lavrov during her trip to the OSCE, where she shared Canada’s concerns about Russia’s destabilizing and aggressive actions in and around Ukraine. On this matter, we will continue to play our role in the ongoing dialogue with Russia through our multilateral partners, namely NATO and the OSCE,” spokeswoman Maeva Proteau said in a statement.

“On the bilateral side, Secretary Joly and senior officials from Global Affairs Canada remain active with our U.S. and European partners in coordinated efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine and promote de-escalation.”

The minister has spent the last week meeting with European leaders and the head of NATO to discuss the situation.

Despite the invitation, Moscow last spring banned nine Canadian officials from entering the country indefinitely after Canada imposed sanctions on nine Russian officials for “gross and systematic human rights abuses in Russia.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Lavrov last Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, to defuse tensions between Russia and Ukraine through diplomatic channels.

Blinken said the US and its allies remain committed to rejecting key Russian demands, which were repeated on Friday. Moscow wants NATO to promise that Ukraine will never become a member, that no alliance weapons will be stationed near Russia’s borders, and that it will withdraw its forces from Central and Eastern Europe.

“We weren’t expecting any major breakthroughs today, but I think we’re now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions,” Blinken said after the meeting.

Lavrov said he was awaiting written responses to any Russian proposals to which the US had agreed before agreeing the talks were on track.

With files from The Associated Press.

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