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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Unfreezes $55M For TACIS Program

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union foreign ministers Monday unblocked 58 million euros ($55 million) in economic aid to Russia that has been held up since December because of concerns over Moscow's military campaign in Chechnya.

Several EU nations had urged the funds be freed up to signal the EU's willingness to build ties with the new government under President Vladimir Putin.

In a statement, the 15 ministers asked that Putin fulfill his government's commitment to economic reforms and said a priority of EU-Russia cooperation would be to support "a modern economy that benefits the whole of Russian society."

The aid is part of the EU's TACIS program of support for former Soviet republics, which has funneled some 4.2 billion euros to the region since its launch in 1991.

Reflecting continuing concern over the human rights situation in Chechnya, the freed aid for Russia will be refocused on support for strengthening democracy, institutional reforms and support for independent media.

The ministers called on Russia to allow independent inquiries into allegations of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

"The European Union remains concerned by the situation in Chechnya and will continue to bring up the issue in its dialogue with Russia," the ministers' statement said.

The EU repeated its call for Russia to seek a negotiated solution to the Chechen conflict.

Among the initiatives expected to receive the new EU funding are programs to improve the ability of Russian citizens to defend their civil rights; support for organizations engaged in protecting interethnic tolerance and protecting minority rights; and training of journalists to work in the independent media.