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Ukraine

Hollande: Russia sanctions should be lifted now 'if progress'

Francois Hollande has called for Western sanctions against Russia to be lifted if there were signs of progress in ending the Ukraine crisis. He's expected to join Chancellor Merkel at upcoming talks in Kazakhstan.

"I think the sanctions must stop now. They must be lifted if there is progress. If there is no progress the sanctions will remain," the French president Hollande said during an interview with the France Inter radio station on Monday.

Hollande said he was hopeful such progress could be made at international talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, on January 15. Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are also expected to attend the gathering, which is part of an attempt to kick start the peace talks and find a lasting solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Hollande said Europe should keep lines of communication open with Putin.

"It has been costly for him...Mr Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine," said Hollande. "What he wants is for Ukraine not to fall into the NATO camp."

"What we want is that he respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine. What we want is that he does not support the separatists," he added.

Damaging sanctions

The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea early last year and its alleged role in the Ukraine crisis. The government in Kyiv has long accused Moscow of supporting separatists in the country's east, a charge Russia denies. More than 4,600 people have died in the conflict since fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in April 2014.

The sanctions have put a strain on the Russian economy, and sent the ruble crashing by some 40 percent against the dollar late last year.

Germany's deputy chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has warned against destabilizing Russia with harsh sanctions, saying it is not in the interest of Europe or Germany.

"The goal was never to push Russia politically and economically into chaos," Gabriel said in an interview the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Prospect of a 'Grexit'

During Monday's radio interview, Hollande also urged Athens to stick to its international commitments, ahead of an election that could result in Greece's exit from the eurozone should the radical left Syriza party win.

"The Greeks are free to choose their own destiny. But, having said that, there are certain engagements that have been made and all those must be of course respected," the French president said.

Hollande, whose Socialist government has criticized Germany's approach to budgetary discipline, said Europe "cannot continue to be identified by austerity."

On Saturday, German magazine Spiegel quoted German government sources as saying they were prepared to let Greece leave the eurozone, and that they would be able to cope with such a scenario, dubbed a Greek exit or "Grexit."

nm/rg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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