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Austria says shares EU stance on Russia despite Putin visit

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is firmly rooted in the European Union and fully shares its stance towards Russia, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday, aiming to reassure critics after Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the Austrian foreign minister’s wedding.

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Karin Kneissl danced with Putin at her wedding last weekend and then made a deep curtsey to him, prompting an outcry in some local media which said she had undermined EU policy on Russia.

The EU imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Relations between Moscow and the EU have been strained by other issues too.

“Our position in Europe did not change because of a wedding,” Kurz told a news conference. “Our foreign policy towards Russia is clear... We helped shape and are committed to all the European Union’s decisions.”

Kurz, whose conservatives govern in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), moved some departments that deal with EU affairs from the foreign ministry to his own office when he became chancellor late last year to reassure member states of his government’s pro-European intentions.

Kurz has said he hopes to improve EU ties with Russia through more intensive dialogue. Austria holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency until the end of the year and is expected to speak on behalf of the whole 28-nation bloc.

However, unlike most western European countries, Austria did not expel Russian diplomats over the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Britain and its allies have blamed Russia, though it denies any involvement.

Kurz said he discussed EU-Russian ties and other issues with Putin during his short visit to Austria. He did not elaborate.

Kneissl, who got her job on a Freedom Party ticket but is not a member of the FPO, invited Putin to her wedding when he visited Austria in June. She is on holiday this week, and has not commented on the media outcry.

FPO leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, whose party has a cooperation agreement with Putin’s United Russia Party, said on Wednesday the Kremlin leader’s visit had underlined his high regard for Austria.

“That is something positive, and I think that many Austrians share this view,” he said. Strache has called for ending the EU sanctions against Russia.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Gareth Jones