INTERNATIONAL

Russia not aiming to divide EU, says Putin

MOSCOW, June 5: Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is not trying to split the European Union (EU).

His remarks come ahead of a visit to Austria, his first trip to a Western European country in nearly a year, BBC reported on Monday. He told Austria’s ORF station he wanted a “united and prosperous” EU, calling the bloc Russia’s most important commercial and economic partner. He also played down reported links between his United Russia party and Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

Putin will meet Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen and Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Tuesday, as well as business leaders.

“The more problems at the heart of the EU, the more risks and problems there are for us,” he said.

“We need to build co-operation with the EU. We don’t have a goal of dividing anything or anyone in the EU.” EU sanctions, levied against Russia because of its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, will likely form part of discussions.

Russia’s relationship with the EU remains strained by its involvement in Ukraine, as well as its role in the war in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, in southern UK.

The British government has accused Russia of being behind the attempted assassination of the Skripals, an allegation Russia denies. Austria’s coalition was one of the few EU governments not to withdraw diplomats from Russia in protest at the allegations.

Putin has supporters within Austria’s ruling coalition, including Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who has called for sanctions on Russia to be lifted. Asked ahead of the meeting in Vienna about Russia’s ties to far-right parties, Kurz said Austria would “decide pragmatically whether to co-operate with someone politically”. “We try to work with those who publicly express the wish themselves to work with us,” he said. (IANS)