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Ukraine PM warns against lifting Russia sanctions

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk

The Ukrainian prime minister has warned the West against the consequences of relaxing sanctions imposed on Russia for its alleged role in the ongoing unrest in east Ukraine.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk said on Saturday any move that could mean an easing of the sanctions slapped on Russia over its alleged role in Ukraine's crisis could embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue his intervention in the restive region.

“If you send mixed signals to Putin, for example that we contemplate an idea to lift sanctions.... this is the weakness,” Yatsenyuk said, adding “This is the way... actually to underpin and support Putin in his aggression against Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian premier, who was addressing an international Yalta European Strategy conference in Kiev, said the only way for Russia to have sanctions lifted would be for it to fully respect the Minsk II agreement, a shaky truce deal reached in early February between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in the Belarusian capital.  

“Sanctions could be lifted only in one case, if Minsk is fully implemented, if Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea [are] back [in Ukraine],” Yatsenyuk said in a speech in English.

Western governments, led by the United States, continue to accuse Russia of having a major hand in the armed conflict in east Ukraine. They also brand a March 2014 joining of Crimea to Russia as illegal, saying Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula under the cover of a democratic referendum.

Moscow denies the allegations, saying it only supports the ethnic Russian population in east and south of Ukraine against what it calls continued suppression by Kiev.

Yatsenyuk said Russia’s incorporation of Crimea was a violation of international law by a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, saying Moscow keeps undermining the UN charter on a constant basis.

The foreign ministers of the countries involved in the Minsk agreement are planning to meet in Berlin to prepare for a summit in Paris in early October.

Ukrainian officials, including President Petro Poroshenko, have expressed optimism about the holding of a permanent ceasefire in the conflict zone. A truce took effect on September 1.

Around 8,000 people have been killed in east Ukraine since the armed militancy began there in April last year.

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