SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia will not consider lifting a ban on European Union vegetable imports until it hears from the EU about the source of a deadly E.coli outbreak.
Using stark language to parry EU accusations that the ban contradicts World Trade Organization rules, Putin said he would not poison Russians just to act in the spirit of the WTO, which Russia hopes soon to join after 18 years of trying.
"We cannot poison our people the sake of some spirit," Putin said in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
"We are waiting for our partners to name at least the source of this infection -- they themselves cannot understand what is going on," he said.
Russia announced the ban on Thursday, accusing Brussels of failing to give sufficient information about the E.coli outbreak that has led to 17 reported deaths, all but one in Germany, and made more than 1,700 people ill.
"All the countries of the euro zone have argued to death amongst themselves over these cucumbers. Now they are dragging us into the scandal," Putin said.
The European Union's envoy to Russia, Fernando Valenzuela, y repeated EU calls on Friday for Russia to lift the ban, which he said lacked sufficient scientific grounds and contradicted WTO rules.
"I will, of course, check on the justification of the decision by our health services (to implement the ban), but it is necessary to await the appropriate information from our colleagues in the European Commission," Putin said.
Putin said the ban was bad for Russia because "this is not the autumn, when we have enough of our own produce."
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage)