EU wants Ukraine ceasefire respected amid renewed fighting
EU foreign ministers want the ceasefire in Ukraine respected following a sharp escalation of fighting last week between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists.
"We restated with all the ministers the strong support of the European Union to the full implementation of the Minsk agreements," the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Brussels on Monday (6 February).
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"The European Union will continue to support Ukraine."
Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson told reporters ahead of the meeting that for the UK, sanctions would also not be lifted on Russia for annexing Crimea. "There is no case for the relaxation of the sanctions," he said.
Belgium's foreign minister Didier Reynders said the European Union also needed to have a greater role in the three-year-old war. But not everyone was happy with Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijarto describing the sanctions against Russia as having little impact.
The Trump Putin gamble
The EU call comes amid contradictory signals from the US administration on Russia.
Donald Trump's flattery for Russia's president Vladimir Putin, despite evidence of US election rigging, has sowed confusion.
Trump said sanctions would remain but had also said "we’ll see what happens".
Nikki Haley, the new US ambassador to the United Nations, took a clearer line. She said earlier this month that Crimea-related sanctions would continue until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine.
The Ukraine government appears undeterred by the mixed signals from the US, however.
On Monday, its vice-prime minister Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze told MEPs in Brussels that Trump's administration would "get the whole picture" in the coming months.
"US policy is being built on the national interests of the United States of America, that includes among other things, the secure stable democratic development in this part of the world," she said.
Klympush-Tsintsadze accused Russian forces of deliberately shelling humanitarian aid centres in Avdiivka, a city in eastern Donetsk province.
The city was gripped in some of the most intense fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed insurgents last week since 2015. Klympush-Tsintsadze said 15 Ukrainian military personnel and three civilians were killed in the region.
She said Russian regular military forces and armed groups had attempted to break through the Ukrainian defence lines on 29 January. The attack happened a day after Trump had spoken to Putin about Ukraine and “mutual cooperation” on the phone.
The town, with a population of over 20,000, was left without electricity as winter temperatures plummeted to well below freezing.
Klympush-Tsintsadze also said that Russia continues to send troops, weapons, and mercenaries, across the 409km border that separates the two countries.
A lull in fighting appears to have set in over the past few days but an official from the EU's foreign policy branch, the EEAS, said the conflict remains highly volatile.
"There is still frequent use of rocket artillery, heavy artillery, mortars and tanks along the contact line," he said.