PASSAU (Germany) • Europe must improve its relationship with Russia and should not let this be something decided by Washington, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, criticising United States President Barack Obama for labelling Moscow as a mere regional power.
"I know from my conversations with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that he (does not accept) phrases like when Barack Obama said Russia was a regional power. What does that mean? You can't talk about Russia like that," Mr Juncker told a conference on Thursday in the southern German town of Passau.
"We must, I say frankly, treat Russia properly," he said. "Russia should be treated as an equal."
The European Union joined the US in imposing sanctions on Russia last year over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and tightened them after separatists launched a rebellion in the east of the country with the backing of Russia.
Relations between Moscow and the West have taken a further turn for the worse since President Putin ordered a bombing campaign in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Juncker said that tensions had to be eased, even if this was not necessarily popular. "We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia. It is not sexy, but that must be the case. We can't go on like this," he said.
Last week, Mr Obama accused Mr Putin of acting out of a position of weakness to defend a crumbling, authoritarian ally in the Syrian leader.
But Mr Juncker signalled that Europe should take a different approach.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE