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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Discusses Better Russia Ties

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Preparing for a summit in Russia next week, European Union ministers on Monday tackled problems with Moscow ranging from visa-free travel to human rights abuses in Chechnya but came up with no new solutions.

Leaders of the 15 EU nations -- and the 10 mostly former Soviet bloc countries slated to join next year -- will meet President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on May 31 amid ceremonies marking the city's 300th anniversary.

EU foreign ministers held a long discussion on improving ties with Russia but did not come up with any new initiatives to improve relations, said Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the EU presidency.

"This is a long-term question," Papandreou said. EU and Russian officials were to meet Tuesday in Athens to continue negotiations.

The 10th EU-Russia summit last November ended embarrassingly when Putin refused to sign a joint declaration because it mentioned human rights and launched into a tirade at a news conference when a French reporter asked about the war in Chechnya.

Diplomats said last week that differences over Chechnya and other issues, such as travel visas for Russians entering the EU, were complicating pre-summit negotiations on a new joint document as well. The EU is hoping to increase cooperation with Russia in areas ranging from fighting crime and illegal immigration to cleaning up nuclear waste.