Russia's Lavrov declares at security talks that his country's goals in Ukraine are unchanged

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivered a blunt message to Western leaders Friday and declared at an international security conference that his government was not prepared to “review its goals” in Ukraine.

“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 an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 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 Lavrov could attend the two-day meeting of the OSCE's Ministerial Council, prompting the top diplomats of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to skip the event in protest.

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

Participants at the meeting accused Moscow of undermining the OSCE with its war in Ukraine. The Vienna, Austria-based organization, originally created to ease Cold War tensions, includes 57 member 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,” Ambassador Katrina Kaktina, Latvia’s representative to 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 charged.

Lavrov held several bilateral meetings while in Skopje, including talks with the foreign ministers of meeting host North Macedonia, Armenia and Hungary, which has maintained close ties with Moscow despite European Union sanctions on Russia.

He later accused diplomats from other 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 a Friday news conference that lasted over an hour.

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

At the close of the OSCE meeting, North Macedonia said it had overcome Russian objections that had threatened to stall the organization's activities.

Participants voted to pass the OSCE's rotating presidency from North Macedonia to Malta, sidestepping objections from Moscow which had blocked an earlier bid by Estonia. Malta will assume the presidency on Jan. 1.

“Let me break the news that the OSCE is saved. We have saved the organization and its functionality,” North Macedonia’s foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, said.

OSCE Secretary-General Helga Schmid also had her term extended for nine months, along with two other senior executives at the organization. A third executive was newly appointed, also for a nine-month term. ___ Gatopoulos reported from Athens. Florent Bajrami in Skopje contributed.