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EU, Russia play up ties but trade barbs over Syria

© AFP | Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini give a joint press conference in Brussels on July 11, 2017

BRUSSELS (AFP) - 

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said both sides could cooperate on key international issues but traded barbs over Syria at the same time.

Mogherini, hosting Lavrov in Brussels after visiting Moscow in April, said they regularly discussed global problems affecting their interests.

Ties between Moscow and Brussels have been strained since Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

"It is clear we do not share the same positions on everything but... it is essential from our perspective to engage, cooperate wherever possible and today we identified ground for cooperation," she told reporters.

Mogherini cited in particular Syria and the ceasefire in the southwest of the country announced after the G20 meeting between presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin last week.

"We see this as a first step to a broader nationwide ceasefire," she said.

At the same time, she recalled how the EU has provided almost 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion) in humanitarian aid for Syrians who wanted a "normal life."

"We are not military player in Syria... and we are proud of not being one," Mogherini added.

Russia, in stark contrast, has intervened on the side of long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad, helping him regain much of the ground lost to rebel forces backed by the west.

Lavrov said bluntly: "We all know the contribution the EU is making... but it is high time to consider the humanitarian impact of EU and US sanctions (against) Damascus."

He said the sanctions had destroyed Syria's pharmaceutical industry, to which Mogherini insisted that the measures targeted only Syrian individuals.

Mogherini said the meeting, which lasted a couple of hours, covered the Libyan crisis, Gulf tensions, the stalled Middle East peace process along with the situation in North Korea and Ukraine.

She gave no specific details.

Earlier Tuesday, EU member states formally approved a landmark cooperation accord with Ukraine ahead of a high-profile summit in Kiev.

"This is the final step of the ratification process through which the EU and Ukraine commit to a close, long-term relationship in all main policy areas," a statement said.

Mogherini noted that the EU was still seeking full implementation of the Minsk ceasefire accords, agreed to by Russia as part of efforts to end fighting between government forces and Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

© 2017 AFP