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Mogherini Says EU Sanctions To Stay, Criticizes Russia Over Chechnya Reports


European Union foreign-affairs chief Federica Mogherini (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a joint press conference in Moscow on April 24.
European Union foreign-affairs chief Federica Mogherini (right) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a joint press conference in Moscow on April 24.

European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini has told Russia that the EU wants better ties but cannot pretend that Moscow did not annex Crimea, and said that sanctions will remain in place.

Mogherini, on her first official visit to Moscow in more than two years in the post, spoke at a joint press conference after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 24.

She also criticized Moscow over evidence of violence and abuse against gay men in the Chechnya region, saying it was the Russian government's responsibility to protect the rights of all its citizens.

"Our expectation is that the Russian Federation does its part to protect its own citizens in full respect of human rights principles," she said, adding that she had discussed the issue with Lavrov.

An April 1 report in the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta said more than 100 men had been detained in Chechnya recently on the basis of the assumption that they were gay, and that at least three of them were killed.

Gay men from Chechnya have since given accounts to RFE/RL and other media of their escape from the abuse they faced in the region in the North Caucasus, which Ramzan Kadyrov has ruled with an iron hand and strong Kremlin support for a decade.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has claimed there is no evidence that backs up the reports, which have caused concern in the West and led to calls for Putin to rein in Kadyrov.

Lavrov bristled at Mogherini's words and suggested that Russia would not engage in a substantive discussion on any question involving human rights in Russia unless "sectoral talks" with the EU on various issues are restored.

Mogherini and Lavrov also differed over what Western countries say was a sarin-gas attack by the Syrian government, which has Russia's strong support, which killed more than 80 people in a rebel-held town in Syria's Idlib Province.

Mogherini said that EU-Russia cooperation was "not frozen" and that the EU wants closer cooperation but that progress is hampered by deep disagreements on subjects including Ukraine and Syria.

"It would be quite surreal to consider ourselves as strategic partners and to have respective sanctions," she said.

The EU, United States, and other countries imposed sanctions on Russia after it seized control of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The West has also imposed sanctions over Russia's support for separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in war that has killed more than 9,900 people since April 2014.

Moscow responded with an embargo on many agricultural products from the West.

Mogherini said the EU sanctions were "not an objective in themselves" but were meant to help end the conflict in Ukraine.

Her visit came a day after a land mine blast in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by the Russia-backed separatists killed an American paramedic who was part of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission.

Two other members of the monitoring mission were injured in the blast, which underscored concerns about the continuing war.

On April 23, Mogherini said the incident was a "reminder of the urgent need for progress on a peaceful resolution of the conflict."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax
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