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France's Macron Calls For EU Security Pact To Put Forward To Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron says EU countries need to build a new "security and stability framework" that would require "strategic rearmament," as well as "frank and demanding" talks with Russia.

"We need to build it between us Europeans, share it with our allies in NATO, and propose it for negotiations with Russia," Macron told the European Parliament in Strasbourg as France starts its presidency of the EU amid growing fears of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine.

An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have been deployed near Ukraine's borders, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, visiting Kyiv, said Moscow had plans to beef them up "on very short notice."

Moscow denies it is planning to invade neighboring Ukraine and says it may move troops anywhere it wants when they are on Russian soil.

Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and is also backing separatist fighters in an ongoing war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014.

Referring to "destabilization efforts" in Europe, Macron said Europe wants to find a political response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Separately, the French president said the EU must review its relationships with the Western Balkans and offer them "sincere" prospects of joining the bloc.

Six Western Balkan countries are seeking to join the EU, but they are at different stages on the path to membership.

Serbia and Montenegro are the most advanced, having opened accession negotiations and several chapters on bringing local policies in line with EU norms.

Membership negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania have been delayed.

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are listed as potential candidate countries.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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