European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held their first meeting in more than two years in St Petersburg, promising to keep “close contacts” in order to improve frosty bilateral relations.
Europe’s economic sanctions on Russia will be lifted once the Minsk agreements are fully implemented, Juncker told Putin on Thursday (16 June), repeating the official line held by Europe and the US over the Ukraine conflict.
The pair agreed to keep “close contacts” to improve bilateral relations, which have hit a low point with the eastern Ukraine conflict, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
It was the first encounter of an EU leader with the Kremlin in more than two years, since the Ukraine crisis broke out, and sanctions were imposed on both sides.
The meeting between the Commission chief and the former KGB agent in St Petersburg took place in a “good atmosphere”, a member of the Juncker team told .
Juncker accepted Putin’s invitation to attend the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s version of the World Economic Forum.
In his speech, the Commission President offered to build a new “bridge” to overcome the gap between the EU and Russia.
“If our relationship today is troubled and marked by mistrust, it is not broken beyond repair. We need to mend it, and I believe we can,” he told a large audience during the opening ceremony of the forum.
“I have always believed in the power of dialogue. When our relations are tense, we must keep talking. Even when economic sanctions are in place, we must keep the door open,” he stressed.
But Juncker’s visit did not alter the EU’s position on sanctions, as some critics feared, just days before EU member states are expected to extend the punitive measures for another six months.