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NATO head to meet Russian officials over Ukraine crisis

A member of the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service stands near the border with Belarus and Poland, in Volyn region, Ukraine November 16, 2021. [Reuters]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has scheduled a special meeting of allied ambassadors with top Russian officials for next weekas both sides seek dialogue to prevent open conflict over Ukraine, a NATO official said on Tuesday.

Deeply concerned about Russia's military build-up along Ukraine's border, the Western military alliance has been seeking a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council for months but the forum seemed in jeopardy after an espionage dispute in October.

The meeting of the council, a format used for dialogue since 2002, will take place in Brussels on Jan. 12 after U.S. and Russian officials hold security talks on Jan. 10 in Geneva.

Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion and end military cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia.

"Any dialogue with Russia would have to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, address NATO's concerns about Russia's actions... and take place in consultation with NATO's European partners," the NATO official said.

Maria Zakharova, Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson, confirmed that Russian officials will attend the NATO meeting in Brussels.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and other senior Russian officials are expected to attend the Brussels talks, after meeting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in Geneva.

On Jan. 13, talks will continue in the broader format of the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet states.