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NATO urges continued sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

Damaging economic sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis must be kept in place to force Moscow to meet its Minsk ceasefire commitments, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

“The international community must keep pressure on Russia to respect its obligations, especially (when) the security situation in eastern Ukraine remains so serious,” Stoltenberg said after NATO foreign ministers met their Ukrainian counterpart in Brussels.

“It’s important that the economic sanctions be maintained.”

The 28-nation European Union — with 22 members also belonging to NATO — imposed economic sanctions on Russia after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

The measures are now up for renewal amid doubts about their effectiveness and cost, and concerns US President-elect Donald Trump may take a softer line on Russia.

France and Germany brokered a series of accords in the Belarus capital Minsk in late 2014 and 2015 which committed Russia to ending support for the rebels in return for greater autonomy.

The West says Russia supplies the rebels with military hardware and assistance, a charge Moscow denies although it says it does support their cause.

Stoltenberg said the meeting with Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin demonstrated NATO’s “unwavering support” for Kiev in the face of “a massive increase in ceasefire violations.”

“Russia has a significant responsibility in bringing the conflict to an end,” he said, regretting lack of progress in recent talks between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said separately he expected the economic sanctions to be rolled-over without much difficulty given the impasse over Ukraine.

Besides the economic measures, which target Russia’s oil, financial and military sectors, the EU has also imposed a separate series of travel ban and asset freeze sanctions against Ukraine and Russian figures deemed to have undermined Ukrainian territorial integrity which expire in March.

Similar sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea run to end-June 2017.