07 октября 2014 13:37

Russian 'bear' needs firmness and tact, says EU's Mogherini

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 The European Union's incoming foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said on Monday that the Russian "bear" needed to be handled with a mixture of firmness and tact, AFP reports.


 The European Union's incoming foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini said on Monday that the Russian "bear" needed to be handled with a mixture of firmness and tact, AFP reports.

Some eastern European EU states had sharply criticised Mogherini's nomination in August, saying her record as Italian foreign minister and a centre-left politician showed she was too soft on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Facing European Parliament lawmakers in a confirmation hearing, she was asked how she would deal with the Russian "bear" -- often used as diplomatic shorthand for a powerful and unpredictable Moscow.

"I do not have much experience of dealing with bears," Mogherini said, suggesting her colleagues from countries closer to Russia might be better placed to answer the question.

"However, I would say we need a mix of assertiveness and diplomacy... the balance would depend on the reaction of the bear."

The EU has imposed several rounds of tough economic sanctions on Russia over the crisis in the former Soviet state of Ukraine, the worst flare-up in tensions between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

Mogherini, who some critics charged was reluctant to agree to the sanctions, made clear that Russia was at fault in Ukraine, where its actions amounted to a "violation of international principles and (showed)... how dangerous it is to change borders by force."

The sanctions response, however, had so far produced mixed results, she said.

"Have they been effective? Yes, the Russian economy is starting to suffer, quite a lot.

"Are they effective on Russian political decisions? We still have a question mark there," she said.

At the same time, Mogherini repeated that Russia had to be dealt with realistically.

"Russia may not be a partner today but it is still a strategic country and a neighbour," she said, adding that Brussels had to engage with Moscow, if only out of self-interest, on key international issues such as arms control.

Mogherini conceded that since March, when Russia annexed Crimea in Ukraine, "many things have changed and not for the better" but she stressed the importance of sticking with a September 5 ceasefire that Kiev signed with pro-Russian rebels.

"I very much hope (peace efforts)... will be followed," she said.

British eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage said earlier this year the EU had "blood on its hands" in Ukraine and Syria, adding: "If you poke the Russian bear with a stick he will respond."

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