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EU foreign ministers threaten more sanctions on Russia, take action against Syria

Foreign ministers from across the EU have begun deliberating over several crises, particularly in Ukraine and Syria. Amid failed diplomatic efforts, they’re looking to sanctions to get their message across.

EU foreign ministers convened in Luxembourg on Monday to discuss the next steps in several crises threatening to destabilize their eastern-most borders. While the civil war in Syria was on the agenda, the continued crisis in Ukraine was expected to be the main focus of the meeting.

Despite a week-long ceasefire between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, reports of fighting persisted over the weekend. Both the Ukrainian president and EU leaders have urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to support Kyiv's peace plan proposal and to use his influence to sway separatists toward diplomacy.

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was due to travel to the Ukrainian capital later in the day, stressed the importance of a peace plan being implemented soon.

"It is without a doubt a decisive week for Ukraine," Steinmeier said. "The peace plan [and ceasefire]…are not only a courageous, but [also] a decisive step."

UK Foreign Minister William Hague also reiterated the importance of Russia's role in stabilizing Ukraine ahead of the meeting on Monday.

"Russia's response to the peace plan will be of vital importance," Hague said, adding that the 28-member bloc planned to impose further bans on Moscow if it failed to comply by the end of the week, when the truce in Ukraine ends.

"Putin should be in no doubt that in the EU, we are ready to take those measures," he said. "A lot of work has gone into preparing wider sanctions against Russia."

Poroshenko wants German help

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called on Germany to give its support to his peace efforts. According to his office on Monday, he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone the previous evening.

"The involvement of Merkel and other world leaders is critically important to a settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," Poroshenko's office said.

Germany played a leading role in negotiations that led to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year. While both the chancellor and her foreign minister appear to have a more functional diplomatic relationship with Putin, they - like other foreign leaders - have faced difficulty in persuading the Russian president to end his support for pro-Moscow separatists.

Over the weekend, Ukraine's state border reported an attack on its posts in the Luhansk region. Kyiv and NATO have also reported increased Russian troop activity along the Ukrainian border. The separatists in eastern Ukraine are widely believed to receive logistical support from Russia, as well.

Sanctions for Syria

The EU foreign ministers announced further sanctions against Syria on Monday, amid a stalemate in the three-year long civil war, which shows now sign of abating.

Twelve more Syrian ministers were slapped with travel bans to the EU and any assets they hold in the EU will be frozen "for serious human rights violations," the foreign ministers said.

The latest set of bans brings the total number to 191, including 32 sanctions against Syrian entities, such as its central bank.

kms/slk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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