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EU not in a hurry to introduce further sanctions against Russia

The European Union has said it is prepared to step up sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. But officials added they would rather focus on enforcing the current ceasefire than implementing new restrictions.

Foreign ministers from across the European Union met in Riga, Latvia on Friday for two days of talks on how to cope with Russia and ongoing instability in Ukraine.

EU nations have reiterated that they are ready to intensify already harsh restrictions against Russia, in an effort to end the fighting that's gone on for more than a year in eastern Ukraine.

But their main aim is to help foster the execution of the Ukraine ceasefire agreed upon in February. The so-called "Minsk agreement" includes measures such as restoring Ukrainian control over its shared border with Russia.

EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini ruled out easing sanctions already in place, saying despite small improvements, it wasn't yet enough.

"They will not be lifted until something really good happens on the ground and on the other side we are always ready to increase the pressure if needed," she told reporters.

She said the next step was to get more ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in to guide the process.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier echoed her comments, saying efforts needed to be concentrated on making the ceasefire accord work.

"At the moment, we are trying to accelerate the process. That is the issue in the foreground and not the question if there will be new sanctions," he said.

US calls to arms

Despite the ceasefire agreement calling for heavy weapons to be withdrawn, violence continues to plague parts of eastern Ukraine.

Russia has continually denied accusations it is sending troops and weapons into the region to support pro-Kremlin rebels.

The government in Kyiv has also said it is also calling back its fighters stationed in trouble zones.

Mogherini said the worst thing to do now would be to escalate the crisis by arming either side of the conflict.

She slammed suggestions made by the United States to send weapons to arm the Ukrainian military, saying the 28-member European bloc is doing enough.

"What Ukraine needs now is not only the full respect of its sovereignty, of its territorial integrity, but also peace," she said.

US Speaker of the House John Boehner, along with several Democrats and Republicans, wrote to President Barack Obama calling for the action, saying the EU's current approach was too timid.

Obama has not commented on the proposal.

EU wavering?

The EU joined many Western countries in imposing sanctions on Russia last year, but have found them difficult to keep up, with many European states reliant on Russia for energy.

Germany gets more than a third of its natural gas and oil imports from Russian suppliers. The shooting down of a commercial passenger jet over Ukraine in July last year prompted Berlin to take further action against Russia.

In Warsaw, speaking after a meeting with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said work on further sanctions was continuing, and hinted that they could be introduced "immediately if the Minsk agreement is broken."

Hammond called for Western nations to look at "a whole range of potential sanctions options, so that we have maximum flexibility, maximum agility and maximum speed in reacting to any provocation."

In a telephone conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Mogherini, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged for the prospect of more sanctions against Russia to be seriously considered.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin complained that certain political of the agreement are yet to be enacted.

He will discuss this and other issues of implementing the accord with officials from Germany, France and Ukraine in Berlin on Friday.

an/sms (Reuters, DPA, AFP)

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