Germany hints at fresh Russia sanctions over Mariupol

SHAFAQNA – Germany‘s foreign minister hinted at further sanctions on Russia on Monday, saying the European Union would have to react if pro-Russian separatists launched a broad offensive on the east Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

European Union foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss a new outbreak of fighting and an attack by pro-Russian separatists on Mariupol on Saturday, a city of 500,000, which Kiev said left 30 civilians dead.

Asked about the possibility of tougher sanctions on Moscow, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “A lot depends on how the next three days go. After the talks I’ve had in last days with some European colleagues, nobody is desperately ambitious to meet in Brussels to impose sanctions.”

“But of course, an attack or a broad offensive on Mariupol would be a qualitative change in the situation to which we would have to react,” Steinmeier added.

For its part, Russia blamed Kiev on Monday for a surge in fighting in Ukraine and warned the West that any attempt to increase economic pressure on it would be “absolutely destructive” blackmail.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine had mainly died down since a September ceasefire, but in recent days the war has returned in full force, with the rebels announcing the effective end of the truce and an offensive to expand territory under their control.

On Saturday they attacked Mariupol, the largest city still in state hands in the two rebel-dominated eastern provinces.

“This is a situation which we in Europe cannot and must not accept,” Steinmeier said, adding that a tense calm had been restored in the city in the last 48 hours.

He urged Moscow to stick to what it had agreed in talks between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in Berlin last week – namely to force separatists to withdraw heavy weapons from a demarcation line.

“We hope that internally there are clear orders from Moscow to the separatists – this is the only way of preventing further bloodshed. All sides know there is not unlimited time to implement the peace agreement,” he added.

European politicians had begun to debate in recent months whether it might be time to start rolling back the sanctions on Moscow, and Steinmeier himself had expressed concern that Russia would be destabilised by them.

But since the escalation of fighting, the talk has now turned to whether the EU should take more action against Russia.

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