German FM floats possible 'step by step' easing of Russia sanctions

27th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Friday floated the possibility of a "step by step" reduction of EU sanctions against Russia if there is headway on ending the conflict in Ukraine.

But Steinmeier's own ministry said progress in implementing peace accords signed last year aimed at ending the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine was "unsatisfactory".

"I hope that by the end of June there will be progress and then we can see if we can reduce the sanctions step by step, or if we stay with the measures we have right now," Steinmeier told reporters in Tallinn.

"If there is no progress, an evaluation will also be necessary," he said. "It is not our aim to maintain the sanctions but to resolve the conflict."

EU sanctions on Russia's banking, defence and energy sectors imposed over its actions in Ukraine expire in July, and extending them requires the unanimous agreement of all 28 member states.

EU leaders are to discuss next month whether to renew the punitive measures.

But Steinmeier said Thursday that talks on the issue were difficult because of the increased resistance of some member states.

He did not name names, but Italy and Hungary have been among the most sceptical while Poland and the Baltic states -- fearful of Russia's actions in their backyard -- have repeatedly pressed hard for sanctions to maintain pressure on Moscow.

Germany and France helped broker peace accords signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015.

They call for a ceasefire along with a range of political, economic and social measures to end the conflict that has cost over 9,300 lives since April 2014 and plunged relations between Moscow and the West to new lows.

"On many points in the agreements we have not made tangible progress and are still a long way from declaring that all 13 points of the agreements have been implemented," said a German foreign ministry statement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Japan, said Thursday that the Group of Seven has no plan to withdraw its sanctions on Russia.

And EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told a German daily last week that she expects an extension of the punitive measures.

© 2016 AFP

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