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EU's top diplomats support prolonged sanctions on Russia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, answers journalists at the EU headquarters in Brussels on February 6, 2017 before a ministerial meeting of the bloc. (Photo by AFP)

European Union foreign ministers have expressed their full support for keeping sanctions on Russia over Moscow’s alleged role in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, saying new US President Donald Trump’s positive view of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would not deter the EU states from keeping pressure on Russia.

“I cannot say where the US administration stands on this, but I can say where the Europeans stand on this,” the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Monday, adding that the EU governments would never recognize Crimea's breaking away from Ukraine and its rejoining of the Russian Federation, a thorny issue which has strained relations between Russia and the West over the past three years. 

Crimea, a strategic peninsula on the Black Sea, rejoined Russia after a referendum in 2014. This came after a series of political developments in Kiev, where a pro-Western government rose to power the same year. 

Tensions further worsened after an armed conflict broke up in eastern Ukraine. Some 10,000 people have so far been killed in around 33 months of violence in the industrial region.

Over the past years, Ukraine and the West have routinely accused Russia of having a hand in the conflict with the latter having imposed an array of economic and diplomatic sanctions on Moscow. Some of the embargoes were renewed in December 2016 until July 31.

Russia has denied involvement in the Ukrainian conflict and has reciprocated the EU sanctions by imposing its own embargoes on the imports of goods from the EU countries.

The EU foreign ministers met in the Belgian capital on Monday to discuss several issues with the conflicts in Ukraine and Libya in focus.

They said on Monday that despite Trump’s overtures to Russia, the EU would continue to keep pressure on Moscow to force Russia to help the establishment of peace in Ukraine.

“The UK will be insisting that there is no case for the relaxation of the sanctions, every case for keeping up the pressure on Russia,” said British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. 

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) talks with Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen (C) and Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski during an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels on February 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

“The sanctions must be preserved, to say the least. We see no reasons why we should lift our review. We see no improvement,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Antanas Linkevicius said, warning that the situation in east Ukraine could escalate.

Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen also said that he had obtained assurances from US officials that Washington would keep sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, saying, however, that if the US changes its approach, the EU will have to play a stronger role.

He warned that “every time there is a vacuum, someone will step in and fill the void.”

Trump has urged closer Washington-Moscow ties. The billionaire property tycoon repeatedly called for closer ties with Russia during his election campaign as well.

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Minsk accords should be respected

Elsewhere in her Monday remarks, Mogherini insisted that all sides to the Ukrainian conflict must respect the Minsk ceasefire agreements to restore calm to the war-ravaged territories in the east. 

Fighting has escalated in eastern Ukraine over the past weeks, as both the government and pro-Russia forces accuse each other of violating the terms of a series of ceasefire agreements known as the Minsk accords.

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