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Lavrov suggested that a possible solution to tensions such as those over Ukraine was a free trade zone including the European Union and a customs union of former Soviet states, floated in the past by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“It is unlikely that any European nation would face the ‘either-or’ choice today if we were already on the track to a common European home,” he said. “Unfortunately, what still prevails is the logic of preserving the dividing lines according to the principle of ‘he who is not for us is against us.’”

Fogh Rasmussen scoffed at that suggestion later, telling reporters that Russia used “both sticks and carrots to get their immediate neighbors to join” a customs union and other trade agreements in the past.

Nations “are queuing up to become members of the EU and NATO not because we use sticks, but because we can offer economic opportunities and security cooperation,” he said.

The Munich conference is known as a venue for frank exchanges in an informal setting.

Lavrov used the occasion for renewed criticism of plans by the U.S. and NATO to install a missile defense system in Romania and Poland, even after the NATO chief said the project is “falsely described as offensive by Russia.”

Lavrov said Russia considers such a system “a part of the strategic arsenal of the United States” and said Moscow’s main concern is “about capabilities, and not intentions.”

“When a nuclear shield is added to a nuclear sword, it is very tempting to use this offensive-defensive capability,” he said.