The European Union could resume cooperation with Russia on human rights and the rule of law, the bloc’s top diplomat said Thursday, adding that it is one of several options to be discussed by foreign ministers next week.


The ministers are due Monday to mull the EU’s future strategic relations with Russia, which have soured over the last year over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its actions in eastern Ukraine, to which the bloc has responded with economic sanctions.

On Wednesday, Mogherini stressed the need to move beyond the sanctions issue and seek dialogue with Moscow, calling this the “missing” element of the EU’s approach.

“This does not mean being soft. But even for being hard you need to talk,” she told EU lawmakers in the French city of Strasbourg.

She said the bloc should look at “what can be used in positive or negative terms to try and influence in the best possible way a change in the Russian behaviour on Ukraine.”

This could include discussions with Moscow on human rights and the country’s judicial system, Mogherini said during a subsequent legislative debate on Thursday.

“In the paper that we will discuss with the ministers on Monday … there is an option of a partial resumption of these forms of cooperation to promote rule of law,” she said.

The EU should consider ways of “restoring partially options and instruments for cooperation on rule of law,” Mogherini said, adding that this affects “the internal situation of many people in Russia and the respect of basic human rights.”

Thursday’s discussion focused on a recent court ruling against Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – a case that Mogherini described as “illustrative of the flaws which persist in the judiciary in Russia.”

“Over the last years, in too many instances … we have witnessed serious violations of basic human rights, which courts were unable to redress, which they even rubber-stamped,” Mogherini said, citing convictions against activist band Pussy Riot as an example.

“We call on the Russian authorities to uphold human rights. We will also extend available financial means to Russian NGOs to keep working to that endeavour,” she added.

In a resolution voted on Thursday, the European Parliament called for the Navalny case to be “free of political interference” and urged EU countries to send “a strong message on the role of human rights in the EU-Russia relationship,” the legislature said in a statement.

In a separate resolution on the crisis in Ukraine, the lawmakers also argued that sanctions against Russia should remain in place until Moscow respects the ceasefire in Ukraine, pulls out its troops and restore Ukraine’s control over its territory, among other things.

EU leaders are expected to review the sanctions against Russia in March.


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