As Russian President Vladimir Putin told an international audience Friday in St. Petersburg that Russia wants to improve its ties with Europe and the United States, the U.S. and European Union renewed a raft of economic sanctions on Moscow for another year.
At Russia's annual St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Putin said the sanctions — enacted after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 — are damaging to Russian-European relations. He said Russia is willing to improve business ties with Europe, but said Europe must meet it halfway.
Russia's economy is suffering from a years-long slump, hit first by the worldwide economic downturn and then economic sanctions and plunging oil prices.
In retaliation for the sanctions, Russia has placed bans on some food imports from the West.
Regarding the upcoming U.S. presidential election, Putin said he is ready to work with whoever is elected. He said Russia will judge the new leader by his or her deeds, not words, and will seek ways to normalize ties with the United States.
On Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made an appearance at the forum, the highest-level EU official to attend since Russia annexed Crimea. Some observers speculated that his presence meant Europe was wavering on the decision to continue sanctions.
But, while Juncker on Thursday advocated building bridges and dialogue with Russia, he put a damper on the prospect of easing sanctions during a speech at the opening of the forum.
"Russia is party to the Minsk agreements. It has made commitments and put them on paper, as have the other signatories. Therefore, the next step is clear: full implementation of the agreements. No more, no less," said Juncker in prepared remarks.
"This is the only way to begin our conversation, and the only way to lift the economic sanctions that have been imposed," he said. "And let me be clear: On Minsk, the European Union is united. And so is the G-7."
Russia was kicked out of the so-called Group of Eight, the world's wealthiest nations, shortly after it annexed Crimea. It is now known as the Group of Seven.