EU, Russia relations strained over eastern Europe
BRUSSELS (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister on Monday sidestepped EU criticism that his country's relationship with the bloc has suffered over its efforts to keep Ukraine under Moscow's sphere of influence.
Sergey Lavrov and his 28 EU counterparts met at a luncheon meeting Monday in Brussels in which the crisis in Ukraine was a key subject, but appeared to make little headway on the issue.
The former Soviet republic last month belatedly refused to sign a political and economic cooperation agreement with Brussels after the EU claimed Moscow applied unacceptable pressure.
"I can tell that we really did not manage to convince each other" at the meeting, said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.
Lavrov said that "it was our common agreement that everyone should respect sovereignty of any country, including Ukraine."
Several EU officials have said over the past months that Russia still seemed to consider Ukraine a subservient neighbor. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the belated withdrawal to sign had left EU-Russia relations under "a strain."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt says Russia applied "both a propaganda war and economic pressure" to keep Ukraine in line.
Moscow had previously cut off gas supplies during bitter pricing disputes to leave Ukrainians freezing in the depth of winter. Now, it is offering Ukraine much-needed discounts for its natural gas in exchange for joining a Moscow-led Customs Union.
The EU and Russia have scheduled a summit meeting in Brussels at the end of next month.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert