German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said an EU leaders’ summit this week will not decide on sanctions on Russia but focus on ways to support the implementation of ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
Her comments on Monday came as EU leaders remained divided ahead of a European Council meeting on March 19 and 20 aimed at extending economic sanctions against Russia, which are set to expire in July.
Merkel said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko following talks between the pair in Berlin: “We will discuss how the EU can help the implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement.
“We would have political discussions on sanctions, but there won’t be a legal decision in the European Council meeting of this month.”
“If necessary, there will be a legal decision on that in June,” Merkel added.
While a number of EU member states have demanded a decision this month on whether to increase pressure on Russia, others have argued for more cautious steps.
Merkel emphasized that, despite the volatile situation in eastern Ukraine, there had been progress in reducing tension in Ukraine.
She said: “The implementation of the ceasefire is still far from meeting the standards of the OSCE … But we also witness de-escalation in the region.
“We urge for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the conflict. We share the same views on that.”
She warned that any new aggression by pro-Russian separatists would face an EU response.
“We are prepared to decide on new sanctions, if they would become necessary. But sanctions are not an end in itself,” Merkel said.
Merkel has assumed a leading diplomatic role in the Ukrainian crisis and has to date objected to military steps or harsher economic sanctions against Russia.
She repeatedly called on Moscow to use its influence over the separatists in eastern Ukraine to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and move towards a political solution.
European leaders accuse Russia of supporting the conflict with providing arms and ammunition to the separatists, while Russia says the U.S. and EU have deliberately destabilized Ukraine to expand the west’s military presence in Eastern Europe through NATO.
More than 6,000 victims have lost their lives in the conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists since last April, according to the UN.