EU suspends new sanctions pending Ukraine summit: France's Fabius
The EU has agreed to postpone new sanctions against Russia to give time to see if a four-way Ukraine peace summit Wednesday makes progress, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
"The principle of the sanctions will be kept, but their implementation will depend on the situation on the ground," Fabius told reporters in Brussels. "We will assess the situation again next Monday."
Foreign ministers from the 28-nation European Union had agreed on January 29 to add 19 people, including five Russians, to a list of those facing travel bans and asset freezes after an upsurge in fighting in eastern Ukraine.
They were meant to formally sign off on the decision in Brussels on Monday, but decided to compromise pending the outcome of Wednesday's crunch summit of the French, German, Russian and Ukraine leaders in the Belarussian capital Minsk.
The Minsk meeting was agreed after Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande for late-night talks in the Kremlin on Friday.
Fabius said the peace iniatitive showed that "things have begun to move", but added that any deal should be based on a largely defunct pact signed between Kiev and Kremlin-backed separatists in Minsk in September.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier meanwhile said it was "not yet sure" the summit would go ahead, adding that much work was still to be done.
The EU has become increasingly divided over sanctions, with some countries fearing for their trade and ties with Russia while others warn that Europe cannot afford to look soft against Moscow.
Brussels first imposed targeted sanctions on individuals after Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014, before slapping increasingly tough economic sanctions on Moscow after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called earlier for the EU to present a united front on Russia.
"My message to my colleagues is we need to remain clear and united in our stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine," he said on his way into the talks.
"We're delighted there are negotiations but until we see Russia take action on the ground we can't relieve the pressure in any way."
Spain's foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo however spoke of the "heavy cost" of sanctions which he said had so far cost the EU 21 billion euros ($23.7 billion) in lost exports.
© 2015 AFP