Federica Mogherini, the European Union's commissioner-designate for foreign policy, has said that the EU needs to handle Russia with a mixture of firmness and tact.
Mogherini, speaking during her three-hour confirmation hearing at the European Parliament, said, "I would say that we need a mix of assertiveness and diplomacy. The balance would also depend on the reaction of the [Russian] bear."
Some Eastern European EU states had sharply criticized Mogherini's nomination in August, saying her record as Italian foreign minister and as a center-left politician showed she was too soft on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
Mogherini said that while relations with Russia are strained at the moment, Russia remains "a strategic country in the world" and the EU needs to consider its ties with Russia "in the next five years."
She added, "It is going to be crucial that we are going to engage with Russia for our own security."
Mogherini also said that the EU needs to pay greater attention to its eastern neighbors.
Mogherini said the EU should offer "full support to Ukraine in terms of security, institutional reform, political process" and economic and energy challenges.
She underlined the importance of "a full implementation" of a cease-fire deal between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists concluded in Minsk last month.
The commissioner-designate also said she believed EU sanctions against Russia have been effective from an economic point of view.
She said, "I think that the Russian economy is starting to suffer quite a lot. So if the question is, have the choices we have made so far been effective on the Russian economy? [the answer is] yes."
Mogherini also said she believes the EU needs to support other eastern neighbors such as Moldova and Georgia and work more closely with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus.
With additional reporting by AFP and Reuters