The German Chancellor has nixed new economic sanctions against Russia ahead of an EU meeting next week, where Moscow will top the agenda amid a fighting flare-up in eastern Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected calls for new economic sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, saying pushback against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis should be limited to expanding the EU's blacklist.
"Further economic sanctions are not planned at the moment, we are focusing on the winter and the humanitarian situation there and how to get a real ceasefire," the leader of the bloc's most powerful nation said in Berlin.
However, Merkel said that she remained open to extending EU travel bans and asset freezes to both newly-elected separatist officials in eastern Ukraine and the Russian oligarchs who supported them.
Calls to further tighten the screws on Russia have grown since the Kremlin refused to condemn the November 2 separatist elections in Donetsk and Luhansk - ballots which the EU, the US and Kyiv roundly rejected as a clear breach of a September cease-fire.
Sanctions "always on the table"
Merkel's comments came ahead of next week's gathering of the 28 EU foreign ministers in Brussels, where Russia's role in the Ukraine conflict is expected to top the agenda. They also came on the day of Federica Mogherini's first visit to Berlin as the EU's high representative for foreign and security policy.
Following discussions with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the EU foreign affairs chief said that sanctions were "always on the table," but should be seen as "an instrument," rather than a solution.
Mogherini said the sanctions had impacted Russia's economy "very seriously." "Our aim is that with such strong pressure (on Russia) the crisis can be resolved," she said. However, she stressed that the focus of next week's meeting would be how to help Ukraine.
The EU and the United States imposed economic sanctions on Moscow in March, following Russia's annexation of Crimea. The West has accused Russia of supporting a subsequent separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has resulted in the deaths of some 4,000 people.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine has intensified over the past week, with some describing the battles between government forces and pro-Russian rebels around Donetsk as the worst since the Minsk ceasefire accord.
Russia has always denied sending troops and weapons across the border to aid the separatists, but this week Kyiv cited a large convoy of unidentified armored trucks seen moving through eastern Ukraine as evidence of Russia's involvement.
pad/uhe (dpa, Reuters, AFP)