Insisting that he does not want to divide the European Union, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is on a mission to repair ties with the 28-nation bloc. Putin travels to Austria in a first EU trip since his re-election.

Ahead of his visit to Austria (which takes over the rotating EU presidency in July), Putin denied any Russian scheme to weaken the EU by lending support to Eurosceptic and populist movements.

“On the contrary, we have to expand our cooperation with the EU,” Putin told Austrian public broadcaster ORF.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW) Germany’s international broadcaster, Putin has taken a pro-EU stance. He said Russia needs a strong EU for trade.

“We do not pursue the objective of dividing anything or anyone in the EU,” he said. “We are fair more interested in the EU being united and flourishing because the EU is our most important trade and economic partner,” he added.

As for Austria’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, he has repeatedly called for EU sanctions against Russia to be lifted.

In a separate report, Radio Free Europe noted that Russia’s relations with the EU remain strained by its aggression in Ukraine, its role in the Syrian conflict, the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England, and other issues.

The EU sanctions levied against Russia following its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine were part of the talks in Vienna.