In Austria, Putin calls for lifting sanctions, Kurz sticks by EU position

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (R) attend a meeting with Russian and Austrian businessmen at the Austrian Economic Chamber of Trade, Commerce and Industry in Vienna, Austria 5 June 2018. [Michael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Pool/EPA/EFE]

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday (5 June) the European Union should end damaging sanctions against Moscow imposed over the Ukraine crisis and its annexation of Crimea.

“The sanctions and all the restrictions imposed for political reasons… are no way to resolve political issues,” Putin said after talks in Vienna with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen.

“They are harmful for everyone, those who put them in place and those who are targeted,” he said.

The Ukraine crisis plunged relations between the EU and Russia into the deep freeze and Brussels responded with a series of asset blocks, travel bans and then more damaging economic sanctions from 2014.

Moscow retaliated in kind but Putin has repeatedly said the sanctions were ineffective and counter-productive.

His welcome in Austria with a full military reception comes after the new populist government in Italy also said it wanted to restore traditionally close relations between Rome and Moscow, with sanctions to be reviewed.

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“Everybody has an interest in getting the sanctions lifted, us too,” Putin said.

The Russian president also met Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz who spoke of the need for dialogue with Russia.

“We have continued our cooperation even during difficult times,” Kurz said after talks with Putin.

“To go forward together one with the other is better than one against the other.”

Kurz noted at the same time that Vienna will “obviously maintain the decisions of the EU, including the sanctions” when it takes over the six-month EU rotating presidency on 1 July.

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Prior to his visit, Putin had stressed the importance of improving ties with Austria and the EU.

Significantly, the right-wing FPÖ party — the junior partner of Kurz’s People’s Party — supports Russia’s claim of sovereignty over Crimea and advocates the easing of economic sanctions against Moscow.

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