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Lifting Russia Sanctions Would Benefit All, Putin Says In Austria


Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after a news conference in Vienna on June 5.
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen (right) and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after a news conference in Vienna on June 5.

Russia has overcome all hardship caused by Western sanctions and the West would benefit from lifting them, President Vladimir Putin said during a visit to Austria -- the first to an EU country after his reelection earlier this year.

The European Union, the United States, and other Western countries imposed sanctions against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine who are fighting government forces.

Putin was asked at a news conference after talks in Vienna with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen about the effect of EU sanctions imposed on Russia.

He said the measures were "harmful for everyone -- those who initiated them and those who are targeted by them," aadding that it was in the interest of "everyone" to lift them.

The sanctions, as well as a drop in oil prices, have contributed to a two-year economic recession in Russia.

Russia's relations with the EU remain strained by its aggression in Ukraine, its role in the Syrian conflict, the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, and other issues.

Putin also held talks with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who said after the meeting that Austria -- which takes over the EU's rotating presidency next month -- will back the bloc's position on sanctions.

"We will actively participate in the European Union's position, support the EU's decisions and, needless to say, sanctions," Kurz told journalists.

Kurz has advocated a step-by-step lifting of the sanctions if there is progress on defusing the Ukraine conflict.

The same position was reiterated by Van der Bellen, who said Austria will act in unison with the European Union in dealing with Russia.

Ahead of his trip, Putin signaled a willingness to repair ties with the European Union.

In an interview aired on the eve of his visit, Putin told Austrian public broadcaster ORF in Moscow that he wanted a "united and prosperous" EU.

"The more problems there are in the EU, the bigger our risks and uncertainties," Putin also said, calling the 28-member bloc Russia's most important commercial and economic partner.

"We need to build cooperation with the EU," he added. "We do not aim to divide the EU."

Putin denied that Russia was sowing discord by nurturing close ties with European populist movements like the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which is part of the Austrian government and has advocated lifting the sanctions against Moscow.

Kurz's coalition was one of the few EU governments not to withdraw diplomats from Russia in response to a nerve-toxin attack in March on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Britain accused Russia of being behind the attempted assassination of the Skripals, which Moscow denies.

Kurz's government has justified its refusal to join the international response to the poisoning by saying Austria was a "builder of bridges between East and West" and wanted to "keep channels open" to Moscow.

Putin told ORF that Moscow and Vienna had maintained "very good and close relations," adding that Austria has traditionally been Russia's "trusted partner in Europe."

Austria, the first Western country to import Soviet gas 50 years ago, is one of Europe's main entry points for Russian gas to Western Europe.

Putin, 65, was reelected to a fourth term as Russian president in March, in a vote opponents said was marred by fraud and international observers said lacked competition and did not present Russians with a genuine choice.

With reporting by dpa, the BBC, Bloomberg, and TASS
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