EU: Russia sanctions to be lifted only if truce holds

At the request of Ukraine, EU says it will keep pressure on Moscow until it meets all obligations under Minsk deal.

    A ceasefire called for in the Minsk agreement is largely holding in east Ukraine [AFP]
    A ceasefire called for in the Minsk agreement is largely holding in east Ukraine [AFP]

    European Union leaders have said that they will not lift economic sanctions against Russia until the peace agreement on eastern Ukraine is fully implemented.

    EU President Donald Tusk said on Thursday that the decision reached at a two-day summit showed the common resolve of the 28 EU nations in the face of Russian involvement in the conflict.

    Russia has denied any military involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine and calls EU and US sanctions unjustified.

    "We have to maintain our sanctions until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented," Tusk said, referring the pact signed in Belarusia's capital in February.

    Ukraine had urged the member nations to keep up pressure on Russia until it meets all its obligations.

    Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine's prime minister, met on Thursday with Tusk ahead of the summit and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to divide Europe over Ukraine. He told Tusk that a European show of unity would be "the best answer".

    Mark Rutte, Netherland's prime minister, said the decision showed that "the EU summit is united".

    "The Minsk agreement must be executed by all parties fully and within deadline," Rutte told reporters. "The option of more sanctions, if the situation worsens, must clearly remain open."

    Ceasefire holding 

    The European leaders did not impose any new sanctions, in part because a ceasefire called for in the Minsk agreement is largely holding.

    More than 6,000 people have been killed in the year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists.

    The EU has visa bans and asset freezes in place targeting 150 individuals, including high-ranking Russians, and 37 entities such as banks, companies and rebel groups. It also has economic sanctions in place that have hit Russian financial and energy interests - as does the United States.

    The sanctions expire later this year, but the leaders can extend them when they meet in Brussels in June.

    Yatsenyuk also expressed optimism about European backing for his government's call to the UN for international peacekeepers to be sent to eastern Ukraine. It was not immediately clear whether the EU approved such a force on Thursday.

    "Everyone wants to get peace in Europe. One of the tools to reach this peace is to deploy peacekeepers," Yatsenyuk said.

    Also on Thursday, an influential European Parliament committee voted in favour of a plan to provide Ukraine with 1.8bn euros ($1.92bn) in medium-term loans to help lift the country out of recession.



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