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Russia will always be a part of Europe, so it’s high time for relations to improve, Austrian foreign minister tells Moscow’s envoy

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday following talks with his Russian counterpart, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg lamented the dismal state of bilateral affairs. “It is painful to realize that relations between the EU and Russia have hit their worst point at the moment,” he said.

“The gap between the West and the East has deepened more and more recently, and this cannot be and should not be in our interests,” Schallenberg added, while reiterating that Vienna has major differences with Moscow over issues like the jailing of opposition figure Alexey Navalny. However, according to him, Russia is a part of the reality of Europe and will continue to be, so a rapprochement with the EU should be a key priority.

In June, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz set out the case for better relations with Russia. “In the end,” he argued, “it is absolutely clear to me that peace in Europe is only possible with Russia, and not against it.” Kurz added that he is “against additional sanctions as an end in themselves… de-escalation is required. It is difficult, but constant aggravation is not the way we want to go.”

During the meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, Schallenberg said that the international community must work together and “do everything possible to prevent Afghanistan from becoming an incubator of international terrorism again.” Schallenberg said it is also necessary to bolster stability and prevent “a huge wave of migration,” saying that “we need to help the Afghans.”

The day before, Lavrov blasted EU officials who he said were more concerned about Russia and China coming out as winners from the chaos in the Central Asian country than about the plight of ordinary Afghans. His comments came after Brussels’ foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that “what we cannot do is let the Chinese and Russians take control of the situation and be supporters of Kabul, and we become irrelevant.”

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