Putin says Russia is not seeking to divide the EU

Ahead of his trip to Austria, the Russian President said that he was more interested in the EU 'being united and flourishing'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking ahead of a visit in Austria, has said he is not trying to divide the European Union.

This visit is his first trop to a Western European Country in nearly a year.

"We do not pursue the objective of dividing anything or anyone in the EU," Putin told broadcaster ORF.

"We are far more interested in the EU being united and flourishing because the EU is our most important trading and economic partner."

The Russian leader will meet government and business leaders in Austria on a visit which formally marks 50 years since the two countries' energy firms Gazprom and OMV first signed a gas supply deal.

Putin also played down reported links between his United Russia party and Austria's far-right Freedom Party.

The issue of EU sanctions, imposed on Russia because of its support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, will weigh on any talks he has.

Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has called for sanctions against Russia to be lifted, but the conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his party, which control Austria's EU policy, have said Austria will toe the EU line.

Russia's relationship with the EU remains strained by its involvement in Ukraine, as well as its role in the war in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, in southern England.

Austria's coalition government of conservatives and the pro-Putin far right was in a minority of EU governments that did not expel any Russian diplomats over the case. Moscow denies involvement.

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