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Russian official: not worried about EU's moves on defense pact

BERLIN (Reuters) - A senior Russia’s foreign ministry official on Tuesday said he was not worried by the European Union’s move to integrate European defenses, saying the initiative was “just words” and did not appear to be aimed at Moscow.

Kirill Logvinov, head of the NATO section at the Russian foreign ministry, called at the annual Berlin Security Conference for renewed efforts to rebuild trust between European countries and Russia through dialogue and military cooperation.

He said the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance had revived Cold War tensions through an enlargement that threatened Russia’s national security.

Moscow was open to resuming dialogue and rebuilding trust, he said, and remained committed to implementing the Minsk agreements aimed at ending violence in eastern Ukraine - as long as Kiev also made good its promises under the deal.

“Just to sit down at a table would be an important step back toward building trust,” Logvinov told reporters.

Asked whether Russia was concerned about an agreement by 23 EU members to cooperate on funding joint military projects and commands, he said Moscow welcomed any steps that would help unify Europe.

“We are not trying to splinter any group. The better the groups work with each other in the Europe, the better it is for us. The faster they speak with a single voice, the better it is for our relationship with the EU,” he said.

Logvinov said the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation or PESCO, had been in the works for decades. “Of course, we are watching this development, but at this point, it’s just words.”

France, Germany and 21 other EU governments signed an agreement this month to fund, develop and deploy armed forces after Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, a project that was first proposed in the 1950s and long resisted by Britain.

Under the deal, to be signed by EU leaders in December, participating governments will for the first time legally bind themselves into joint projects as well as pledging to increase defense spending and contribute to rapid deployments.

Its backers say that if successful, the formal club of 23 members will give the European Union a more coherent role in tackling international crises and end the kind of shortcomings seen in Libya in 2011, when European allies relied on the United States for air power and munitions.

Rachel Ellehuus, principal director for European and NATO policy at the U.S. Defense Department, told the conference that the United States welcomed the deal, lauding Europe’s transparent approach to the new initiative.

Unlike past attempts, the U.S.-led NATO alliance backs the project, aiming to benefit from stronger militaries.

Many governments say Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 was a turning-point for European defense integration, after years of defense spending cuts that left Europe without vital capabilities.

But German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said PESCO was more about making Europe work more efficiently together to deal with humanitarian crises and was not related to fraying relations with Russia.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by Ed Osmond