BRUSSELS – European Union leaders said Thursday that they won’t lift economic sanctions against Russia until the peace agreement on eastern Ukraine is fully implemented.
EU President Donald Tusk said the decision reached at a two-day summit showed the common resolve of the 28 EU nations in the face of Russian involvement in the conflict.
It also underscored the support of the EU for Ukraine, which had urged the member nations to keep up pressure on Russia until it meets all its obligations under a deal brokered in the Belarus capital of Minsk last month.
“We have to maintain our sanctions until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented,” Tusk said.
Russia has denied any military involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine and calls EU and U.S. sanctions unjustified.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk met Thursday with Tusk ahead of the summit and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to divide Europe over Ukraine. He told Tusk that a European show of unity would be “the best answer.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the decision showed that “the EU summit is united.”
“The Minsk agreement must be executed by all parties fully and within deadline,” he told reporters. “The option of more sanctions, if the situation worsens, must clearly remain open.”
The European leaders did not impose any new sanctions, in part because a ceasefire called for in the Minsk agreement is largely holding.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in the year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists.
The EU has visa bans and asset freezes in place targeting 150 individuals, including high-ranking Russians, and 37 entities such as banks, companies and rebel groups. It also has economic sanctions in place that have hit Russian financial and energy interests — as does the United States.
The sanctions expire later this year, but the leaders can extend them when they next meet in Brussels in June.
Yatsenyuk also expressed optimism about European backing for his government’s call to the U.N. for international peacekeepers to be sent to eastern Ukraine. It was not immediately clear whether the EU approved such a force Thursday.
“Everyone wants to get peace in Europe. One of the tools to reach this peace is to deploy peacekeepers,” Yatsenyuk said.
Also Thursday, an influential European Parliament committee voted in favour of a plan to provide Ukraine with 1.8 billion euros ($1.92 billion) in medium-term loans to help lift the country out of recession.
The move makes it a formality that the plan will be formally adopted on March 25, and would see two-thirds of the money disbursed by the end of the year.
Frank Jordans contributed to this article.