European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to attend an event in Russia next month, a commission spokeswoman has said.
"President Juncker has been invited and plans to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16," the spokeswoman said on May 30.
The Kremlin welcomed the news, and spokesman Dmitry Peskov added that Juncker would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But Pesko said Russia was not optimistic Juncker's visit would lead to a warming in ties between Brussels and Moscow.
The commission president would be the first leader of an EU institution to visit Russia since sanctions were imposed in March 2014 for Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Juncker would "use this opportunity to convey to the Russian leadership, as well as the wider audience, the EU's perspective regarding the current state of the EU-Russian relations."
Analysts says Juncker's visit would come right before a crucial EU decision on whether to renew the sanctions, possibly strengthening Putin’s position.
Juncker, who has called for a "practical relationship" with Moscow, has faced criticism from some European officials who favor keeping sanctions in place.
Schinas stressed that the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, "fully shares" the main principles of the approach to Russia agreed by the 28 member governments.
Based on reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and TASS