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Russia says EU unconstructive, will retaliate against sanctions

Source: Reuters - Fri, 7 Mar 2014 17:32 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Russia warns EU not to undermine trust of "strategic partner"

* Says OSCE must condemn opposition violence

* EU halted talks on visa regimes, overarching Russia pact

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW, March 7 (Reuters) - Russia on Friday accused the European Union of taking an "extremely unconstructive position" by freezing talks on easing visa barriers and on a comprehensive agreement that would govern ties between Moscow and the EU over Ukraine.

With the European Union pressing for a negotiated solution to the crisis in Ukraine, Moscow also set out tough conditions it indicated the West must take to win Russia's cooperation.

"Russia will not accept the language of sanctions and threats" and will retaliate if sanctions are imposed, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement about agreements reached at an emergency EU summit on Thursday.

The EU summit was held in an effort to enforce a call for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine's Crimea region and the opening of negotiations between Moscow and Kiev amid severe tension.

It resulted in the suspension of visa talks that began in 2007 and that Moscow hopes will eventually enable its citizens to travel to Europe without obtaining visas - a major goal for President Vladimir Putin.

The 28-nation EU also agreed to suspend talks on an elusive new pact that would replace a 1997 Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and would involve closer economic cooperation, investment, research, trade and energy relations.

"It is hard to shake the impression that opportunistic approaches prevailed over common sense, which dictates the need to, at a minimum, listen to the fundamental position of a strategic partner of the EU: Russia," the Russian statement said.

Russia hopes "the European Union - which has tried, not always successfully, to play a leading role in Ukraine - will not take steps that could undermine trust in it as a strategic partner," the ministry said later in a separate statement.

It appeared to set out steps regional organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose unarmed military observers have been unable to enter Crimea, must take to win Russian backing.

"International support for stabilisation of the situation in Ukraine can be useful and effective, but only if they are objective," the statement said.

It said the OSCE must "condemn all violent actions" by government opponents during the bloody standoff in Kiev that led to President Viktor Yanukovich's ouster.

The OSCE must also "recognise the coup d'etat in Kiev as illegal" and take steps to implement a peace deal reached by Yanukovich and his foes a day before he fled the capital.

A Russian envoy did not join European diplomats who signed the pact, but since Yanukovich's downfall Moscow has said the document must be the basis for a solution to the crisis.

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