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Slovak leader Fico, critic of Russia sanctions, to visit Moscow

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is seen during a press conference with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc (unseen) at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam July 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who has called for the West to lift sanctions on Russia, will meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, a spokeswoman said.

Slovakia currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, which agreed in June to extend energy, financial and defence sanctions on Russia until the end of January.

Fico has said the sanctions, imposed over Russia’s role in Ukraine, are absurd and counterproductive.

The spokeswoman declined to give more details as for the topic of the talks.

Fico will meet France’s President Francois Hollande in Paris earlier on Thursday and will take part in a meeting of central European leaders from the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Warsaw on Friday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week there was no reason to lift the sanctions as Moscow has not fulfilled all of its commitments under an international peace plan.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine rose again in August after Putin accused Kiev of sending saboteurs into annexed Crimea who clashed with Russian troops.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi attended Russia’s main annual economic forum in St Petersburg in June, riling some countries such as Lithuania and Latvia who fear Russian aggression and are uneasy that high-level contacts with Moscow are intensifying despite the Ukraine crisis.

Putin visited Slovenia in July, seen as a drive to kill the sanctions by lobbying what he views as more pliant southern and eastern European states.

Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Dominic Evans