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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Will Not Lecture Russia, Portugal Says

The European Union will steer a conciliatory course toward Russia and try hard to get talks on a new strategic partnership going, Portugal, which took over the rotating EU presidency last weekend, said Tuesday.

"We will not lecture Russia," Portuguese Ambassador Manuel Curto told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been critical of the Kremlin during her country's tenure in the first half of 2007. Her stance was highlighted at the Russian-EU summit near Samara in May, where she got into a public argument with President Vladimir Putin on crackdowns against opposition demonstrators.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates lavished praise on Putin during an official visit to Moscow at the end of May, perceived as an agenda-setting meeting before his presidency.

Curto stressed that both Socrates and Merkel had been speaking in the name of the EU, which had a "very coherent" policy toward Moscow.

"Russia is not an enemy. We don't have hostility toward Russia. [But] we have to be clear and frank," he told journalists gathered at the EU delegation's headquarters in Moscow.

The ambassador made it clear that the EU's relations with Russia were a priority and that he viewed Russia as vital to European identity. "I cannot conceive a Europe without Russia," he said.

He also called the Russians a "brave and very proud people" who have achieved great things during the last 15 years.

Curto and EU delegation head Marc Franko voiced hopes that talks would start on a new strategic partnership with Russia during Portugal's six-month presidency. The existing partnership and cooperation agreement, a document underlying the relations between Europe and Russia, expires in November and is only renewed on a yearly basis. Attempts to start negotiations for a new treaty have been blocked by numerous disputes between Brussels and Moscow, one of them being a Russian ban on Polish agricultural products. Poland has vowed to block the treaty as long as Moscow upholds the ban.

Franko said he could not see any technical reason why Russia stuck to its decision and that therefore the reason must be political.

Curto said Portugal this year would follow the path set out in the Lisbon Strategy, a roadmap out of the industrial age into a knowledge-based era introduced during Portugal's last EU presidency, in 2000. He said the EU should adopt a fresh approach to the Mediterranean region and Latin America.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the EU of harboring anti-Russian sentiments. "There is a propaganda campaign aimed at creating a negative image of Moscow. ... All this is dividing the continent, initially on a political-psychological level," Lavrov wrote in an essay published Tuesday in Izvestia. Lavrov also charged that there was an anti-Russian bloc within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO and the signatories of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. "This can not go on for long. One needs to take a fresh look at things," he wrote.