BRUSSELS -- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that the EU should seek better relations with Moscow, but without giving up its values.
"There is no European security for the future centuries without Russia," Juncker told the bloc's ambassadors in Brussels on August 29.
"The European Union is 5.5 million square kilometers, Russia alone has 17.5. Any more questions?" he added.
He also said that the EU should "find with Russia a discourse that is more suitable for the future ahead of us."
But he insisted that this should be done "without renouncing our values and principles [such as] the annexation of Crimea and the rest."
Juncker has repeatedly called for improved relations with Moscow, which have been strained by animus over Russia's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and its continued support for separatists in the country's east.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since April 2014 in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and the Russia-backed separatists, who hold parts of two Ukrainian eastern provinces.
In response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the EU adopted economic sanctions against Moscow that were prolonged by six months in June.
The bloc also has also imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 153 people and 40 entities that it claims are responsible for the destabilization of Ukrainian sovereignty. This list is, according to EU diplomats, expected to be rolled-over by six months in September.
Holding a traditional summer news conference in Berlin on August 29, German Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged that lifting the sanctions would benefit both Russia and Germany.
But she stressed that the restrictions must remain in place until Moscow fulfills the conditions for their removal.
Merkel called for continued dialogue between all sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine so that eventually there could be a solution that would lead to the lifting of the sanctions.
"If the [February 2015 Minsk peace] agreement is kept, then the requirement will be met for lifting the sanctions on Russia," she said.
"That would be good for the Russian economy as well as good for the German economy," the chancellor added.