Russia Says EU Break Wouldn’t Harm Ties With European Nations

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov softened his rhetoric on the European Union, saying Russia remains keen to maintain friendly relations with European countries despite his threat last week to break off ties with the 27-nation bloc.

“You mustn’t confuse the European Union and Europe,” Lavrov said on Monday after talks with his Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto in St. Petersburg. “We’re not leaving Europe -- we have a lot of friends and like-minded people there and we will continue to develop mutually beneficial ties with them.”

Russia’s top diplomat accused the bloc of gradually ruining its relationship with his country by halting forums of cooperation and imposing sanctions in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. But that won’t stop Russia from deepening trade and investment partnerships with Europe, he said. “Life goes on,” Lavrov said. “The deliberate destruction of all these links we used to have won’t stop people and business coming together.”

Lavrov on Friday warned the EU that Russia is ready to break off ties with the bloc if it imposes sanctions that damage the Russian economy over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.

Haavisto pushed back against Lavrov’s assertion that the EU has sought a rupture with Russia. “It’s important to note that there has been no proposal from the European Union side to cut off ties with Russia,” he said. “No such proposal is on the table on the European Union side.”

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