EU ties with Caucasus 'not against' Moscow: Hollande
BAKU - Agence France-Presse
French President Francois Hollande (L) meets with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on May 12, 2014 at the Zagulba Presidential Palace in Bakou. AFP PhotoFrench President Francois Hollande said in Azerbaijan Monday that cooperation between Europe and ex-Soviet countries should not be seen as infringing on anyone else's interests, a clear reference to Moscow amid the crisis in Ukraine.
"The European Union's Eastern Partnership is not directed against anyone, but should encourage greater trade and investment", the French leader said after meeting with Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev.
Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia and Belarus five years ago agreed to pursue "Eastern Partnership" deals establishing more cooperation with the EU.
Moscow is deeply uneasy about the agreements, seeing them as an encroachment on its post-Soviet sphere of influence.
Ukraine's relations with the EU and its intention last year to sign a deal for greater cooperation infuriated Russia and eventually led to the country's ongoing political crisis.
Hollande said his tour of Caucasus countries, which will see him go to Armenia later Monday and Georgia on Tuesday, "is not directed against anyone but aims to reinforce ties between Europe, France, and partners that today are independent and worried about their development".
"We are not doing anything to break countries away from another partnership," he added, alluding to the Moscow-led customs union and a Eurasian Economic Union promoted by President Vladimir Putin.
Hollande said his visit to the Caucasus is to "ensure that these countries can determine their future while maintaining the best relations in their environment" with old master Russia.
Urged before his trip to raise human rights concerns with Baku, Hollande suggested he had brought them up in talks with Aliyev.
Hollande said he always raised issues of "values and principles" when abroad and "all questions" were on the table during the talks.
The French leader was expected to meet later with leading Azerbaijani rights activist Leyla Yunus, who was briefly arrested last month.