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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Russia 'backsliding on democracy'
Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Putin: Criticised for concentrating his grip on power
Russia is backsliding on democracy, the European Union's incoming external relations commissioner has said.

"We are seeing a step backwards in Russian democracy," Benita Ferrero-Waldner told a hearing at the European Parliament to confirm her in the post.

The EU needed to have a frank dialogue with Moscow and stress that in the fight against terrorism, one cannot "leave aside human rights," she said.

Russia-EU ties cooled recently amid criticism of Moscow's rights record.

Tough talk

Russian President Vladimir Putin was widely criticised last month for concentrating his grip on power after the Beslan school siege in the troubled Caucasus region that left more than 300 people dead.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner's comments on Russia came as she outlined her priorities as she prepares to take office on 1 November.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner addresses a news conference in Brussels

"It's quite obvious, let me be quite clear on that, that we are seeing a backsliding in democracy in Russia at the moment," she told MEPs.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner, Austria's foreign minister since 2000, said the EU had to have tough talks with Russia but keep the dialogue going.

She said she recognised Moscow's right to defend the integrity of its territory but that it was necessary to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya.

She said she would press Russia on human rights, saying that even in the aftermath of the Beslan siege there was no excuse for overriding human rights.

EU values

"Human rights always have to be defended, also when it comes to combating terrorism, and it's up to us to say this and to shout this from the rooftops," Ms Ferrero-Waldner said.

She also said the European Union should promote its European Neighbourhood Policy, which aims to boost ties with states that became its neighbours after the eastward expansion of the EU on 1 May 2004.

"I will do everything in my powers to keep Ukraine on our side at least," said Ms Ferrero-Waldner.

But she said it would be more difficult to work with Belarus, whose authoritarian government shared few of the EU values of democracy, freedom and human rights.

On other matters, Ms Ferrero-Waldner said she was in favour of the EU having a single seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council.

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