Austria is in favour of removing sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, Austrian President Heinz Fischer said Wednesday on an official visit to Moscow.
"I have always said that sanctions hurt both sides," Fischer said at a meeting with the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, Sergei Naryshkin, according to state news agency TASS.
"It is important to develop a way to overcome these sanctions in the near future," said Fischer, a powerful politician who has been president since 2004 but will leave office in July.
Later on Wednesday, Fischer told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Austria could help remove sanctions if Russia ensures complete fulfilment of the Ukraine ceasefire deal.
"Those who are interested in the development of good economic relations between Europe and Russia are not contented with the existence of sanctions and would like to lift them," Fischer said.
"But," he added, "I would like to note that Austria is a loyal member of the EU and, as a loyal EU member - which it would like to remain - should adhere to decisions adopted regarding Russia."
Putin noted that bilateral trade had fallen by about 25 per cent because of the sanctions, "though Russian exports to Austria, surprising as it might seem, actually increased slightly over the previous year," according to a Kremlin statement.
Earlier, the Kremlin said the presidents would also discuss European security, as Austria prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) next year. The OSCE independently monitors the Ukraine conflict.
Russia has faced off against the European Union and other Western powers with tit-for-tat sanctions since Russia annexed a part of neighbouring Ukraine in early 2014.
Russia occupied and annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea region - the site of a major Russian naval base on the Black Sea - after Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president amid mass protests calling for closer ties with the West.
Shortly after the annexation, a pro-Russian separatist rebellion erupted in Ukraine's two easternmost regions. More than 9,000 people have died in the ensuing conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.
Kiev and many Western powers accuse Moscow of fuelling the conflict with supplies of weapons and troops for the separatists. Moscow has adamantly denied such claims.
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