Russia invited Joly to visit Moscow: ambassador

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

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Stepanov said the Russian government would welcome the meeting.

“Your excellency Joly had the chance to chat with [Foreign] Minister [Sergei] Lavrov on the margins of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting last December in Stockholm and expressed her interest to come to Moscow for consultations at some point and my minister extended the official invitation,” he said.

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

Russia has amassed 100,000 troops along different regions of the Ukraine border prompting concerns about a full-scale invasion there. Russia denies it intends to invade.

Stepanov added that while Russia is still waiting for an answer from the Canadian government about the proposed visit, an “open invitation” stands.

“When the Canadian government is ready, they will be welcomed. We will be glad to host Minister Joly in Russia or they can meet in any other spot during multilateral events,” he said.

Joly’s office confirmed to CTV News the receipt of the invitation and that they haven’t yet responded.

“Minister Joly has already briefly met with Foreign Minister Lavrov during her trip to the OSCE where she communicated Canada’s concerns about Russia’s destabilizing and aggressive acts 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,” a statement from spokesperson Maeva Proteau reads.

“On the bilateral side, Minister Joly and seniors officials from Global Affairs Canada remain actively engaged with our U.S. and European partners as part of coordinated efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine and to encourage de-escalation.”

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

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland last Friday in an attempt to cool tensions between Russia and Ukraine through diplomatic avenues.

Blinken said the U.S. and its allies remain resolute in rejecting Russia’s most important demands, which were reiterated Friday. Moscow wants NATO to promise that Ukraine will never be added as a member, that no alliance weapons will be deployed near Russian borders, and that it pull back its forces from Central and Eastern Europe.

“We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I believe we are now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions,” Blinken said after the meeting.

Lavrov said he is waiting for written responses to all of Russia’s proposals, which the U.S. agreed to, before agreeing talks are on the right track.

With files from The Associated Press.

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