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Merkel Says Russia Punishing Countries With EU Aspirations

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has accused Russia of interfering in the domestic affairs of Eastern European states seeking closer ties with the European Union.

Merkel told German daily "Die Welt am Sonntag" on December 7 that Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine have made decisions to sign association agreements with the EU and "Russia is creating problems for all three of these countries."

Merkel pointed to "frozen conflicts" in breakaway regions like Moldova's Transdniester, Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Russian interference in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has shown its irritation with Moldova's pro-European course by banning imports of Moldovan wines, vegetables, and meat.

Last month Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a "strategic partnership" agreement with Abkhazia, prompting strong criticism from NATO and the EU.

Merkel also accused Moscow of trying to extend its influence in the Western Balkans by making countries there economically and politically dependent on Russia.

Merkel added that the "common European response" to Russia's actions in Ukraine is "correct."

The crisis in Ukraine began more than one year ago when President Viktor Yanukovych bailed out at the last moment from a key political and economic deal with the EU in favor of closer cooperation with Russia.

The move triggered huge pro-EU demonstrations in Kyiv, leading to Yanukovych's ouster in February.

Russia responded in the following weeks by annexing Ukraine's southern region of Crimea, while Moscow-backed separatists took control of parts of eastern Ukraine.

The conflict has led to the deaths of more than 4,300 since April.

The crisis has caused serious tensions between Russia and the West.

On December 6, French President Francois Hollande became the first European leader to travel to Russia since the beginning of the crisis, as Ukraine announced a fresh round of peace talks next week.

Hollande had consulted by telephone with Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ahead of his meeting with Putin during a short stop at Vnukovo Airport on his way back from Central Asia.

Moscow has been furious over Hollande's decision to delay delivery of the first of two Mistral helicopter carriers -- which had been scheduled for this fall -- in view of Western concerns over Moscow's involvement in the conflict.

France had agreed to deliver the two mammoth warships worth $1.5 billion to the Russian navy prior to Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March.

Paris faces hefty fines if it breaches the contract with Russia, but is under pressure from its allies around the world not to hand over the technology.

Putin claimed after the meeting that the Mistrals were not discussed. Reiterating Moscow's position that France must honor the contract or return the money, he said Russia will be "understanding" whatever the outcome.

With reporting by and Reuters
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