German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande both said that the EU could still impose more sanctions, if a new ceasefire deal between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists is not respected.
After brokering the deal in Minsk in talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders, Merkel told a press conference in Brussels that EU leaders had asked the bloc's executive to prepare new sanctions if the ceasefire did not hold.
"If there are difficulties, then we would not rule out further sanctions," Merkel said, adding that several points of the ceasefire could prove difficult to implement. "Actions must now follow words ... Therefore we are keeping every option to react open." Previously, the chancellor had described the accord as "a glimmer of hope."
Also speaking at the EU leaders' summit in Brussels, Hollande said that if the agreement did not stand, then "we would get back into the procedure that you know ... where sanctions would be added to the sanctions that are already in place."
Under the latest Minsk agreement, a ceasefire should come into effect at midnight Kyiv time on Sunday (2200 UTC/GMT on Saturday), and heavy weapons will be withdrawn from the frontlines of the conflict.
The West has largely reacted with caution to the deal, which comes five months after a ceasefire was brokered in Minsk that failed to stop the conflict. The UN estimates that almost 5,400 people have been killed since the fighting in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk broke out in April 2014, following the overthrow of former President Viktor Yanukovich and Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the accord, but said that there was a "long road ahead before achieving peace."
"We will judge the commitment of Russia and the separatists by their actions, not their words," Kerry said in a statement.
But fighting continued even while the negotiations in Minsk were taking place. Ukraine claimed that 50 tanks had crossed into the country from Russia overnight, a claim Moscow rejected. Fighting has intensified in recent days as the separatists try to take control of the strategic transport hub of Debaltseve.
jr/msh (Reuters, AFP)