EU puts off fresh Russia sanctions awaiting Minsk talks

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, center, speaks with, from left, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu and Malta's Foreign Minister George Vella during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. European Union foreign ministers have thrown their weight behind fresh diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine as they assess whether to expand the EU sanctions list targeting separatists and Russian nationals. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union decided Monday to hold off temporarily on slapping sanctions on more Russians and Ukrainian separatists and await the outcome of possible peace talks later this week.

With the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine due to hold negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday, the EU has held off placing asset freezes and travel bans on 19 more individuals, including five Russians, for their actions in eastern Ukraine. It said the situation would be reviewed Monday.

“The principle of the sanctions is maintained but the application will depend on what happens on the ground,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “We will see if the meeting has taken place, what kind of results there are. And then we will be able to draw conclusions.”

The EU foreign ministers are throwing their weight behind fresh diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, rejecting calls by some U.S. politicians to provide lethal defensive weapons to Kiev.

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned that the Minsk meeting is not set in stone yet. He said diplomats from all sides were meeting Monday behind closed doors in Berlin to try to pave the way.

“We hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved to a point that a Minsk meeting would hold some promise and can produce the first steps toward defusing the situation and a cease-fire,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding “(but) it’s not yet certain.”

As the debate continued in Washington on whether to send weapons to the embattled Ukrainian military, most EU ministers said now is not the time to risk escalating tensions.

“We do not see this as progress. It would be easy for the Russians to immediately compensate for that,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.

Britain as well agreed to hold off for now.

“The UK is not intending to supply lethal weaponry to Ukraine at this point in time,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

___

David Rising contributed from Berlin

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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