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EU’s Juncker set to meet Putin on Russia trip

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European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker holds a press conference following a meeting with the French prime minister at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 23, 2016. / AFP / THIERRY CHARLIER

European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker holds a press conference following a meeting with the French prime minister at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 23, 2016. / AFP / THIERRY CHARLIER

Top EU official Jean-Claude Juncker is set to meet President Vladimir Putin in Russia in June, a spokesman said Monday, while denying any “inconsistency” with an upcoming decision on whether to extend sanctions against Moscow.

European Commission President Juncker’s trip will be the first to Russia by a top Brussels official since the European Union and United States imposed punitive measures over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine in 2014.

“I can indeed confirm that President Juncker has been invited and plans to participate in the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on the 16th of June,” Juncker’s spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a daily briefing.

Juncker “will use this opportunity to convey to the Russian leadership as well as to a wider audience the EU’s perspective regarding the current state of EU-Russia relations.”

Asked if Juncker would hold direct talks with the Russian leader, the spokesman said: “We understand that President Putin will also attend the (forum) and I think it would be evident that the two leaders being there will have to meet, because they will be there attending the same forum.”

Relations between Europe and Russia remain at their lowest point since the Cold War because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which the West accuses Moscow of backing pro-Russian rebels.

Juncker’s spokesman denied that the visit would be at odds with the EU’s stance on Russia, with EU leaders expected to renew sanctions on Russia’s banking, defence and energy sectors that expire in July.

“We don’t see inconsistency with the decision of the President to attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum,” Schinas told reporters.

Juncker backed the position taken by the G7 summit in Japan last week that the sanctions depended on Russia’s implementation of the Minsk peace agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, the spokesman added.

“Sanctions can be rolled back when Russia meets its commitments, but also we stand ready to take further actions to increase costs in case that Russia’s actions should so require,” he said.

EU foreign ministers decided in March that there could be “selective engagement” with Russia on certain issues.



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