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EU must improve Russia ties, says Commission chief Juncker

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image captionJean-Claude Juncker was alluding to the EU's important trade ties with Russia

The EU must restore a "practical relationship" with Russia and not let the US "dictate" that policy, the European Commission chief has said.

Jean-Claude Juncker criticised US President Barack Obama's description of Russia as merely "a regional power".

EU-US sanctions were imposed on Russia because of its intervention in Ukraine. Mr Obama had a frosty meeting recently with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Russia must be treated decently," Mr Juncker said in Germany.

"We must make efforts towards a practical relationship with Russia. It is not sexy but that must be the case, we can't go on like this," he said, during a visit to Passau in southern Germany.

Last year the West imposed visa bans and asset freezes on dozens of senior Russian officials.

The sanctions also restricted Russian access to Western bank credits and industrial technology in the defence and energy sectors. In retaliation, Russia banned most imports of Western food and drink.

Syria tensions

Passau has become a major transit hub for non-EU migrants seeking a new life in Germany, and Mr Juncker's visit was focused on the EU's efforts to handle the migrant influx.

The civil war in Syria is driving rising numbers of Syrians into Turkey and onwards to Central Europe. Turkey already hosts about two million Syrians in basic refugee camps.

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image captionThe body language was awkward at the Obama-Putin talks at the UN

Last week Mr Obama sharply criticised Russia's air strikes in Syria, which began at the end of September.

The US and UK governments are worried that Russia's help for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will keep him in power and weaken the "moderate" Syrian groups fighting to oust him.

Russia insists that its air strikes are mainly targeting the so-called Islamic State (IS), while Western leaders dispute that.

Referring to the current tensions in EU-Russia relations Mr Juncker said "we can't let our relationship with Russia be dictated by Washington".

But he also urged Russia to make a "massive" policy shift. "The way they have acted in Crimea and eastern Ukraine is not acceptable," he said.

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