Russian President Vladimir Putin and top EU official Jean-Claude Juncker will meet in the Russian city of St Petersburg next week, the European Commission said Friday, despite enduring tensions over sanctions that the West has imposed on Moscow.
It will be the first time in 19 months that the two men come "face to face," after having last met in 2014 on the margins of a G20 summit, commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said. Juncker heads the commission, which is the European Union's executive.
The two men will meet on the margins of the prominent St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Juncker is also due to deliver a speech while in St Petersburg on June 16-17.
His trip has been criticized in some EU countries. Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand last week suggested that Juncker's participation in the forum was not "strictly necessary," according to the BNS news agency.
His visit to Russia comes as the 28-country EU prepares to prolong the toughest of the sanctions it imposed on Russia following its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The economic sanctions, which hamper Russian imports into the EU and Russian banks' access to European markets, are due to expire at the end of July.
Kaljurand urged Juncker to "call on Russia to meet its international obligations when it comes to European security and human rights, to end the aggression in Ukraine and the unlawful annexation of Crimea."
Juncker has advocated for relations with Russia to be improved, but also warned last month that there will not be any "softening of European positions in St Petersburg."
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