The NATO chief says the West should uphold the bans imposed against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis amid a rift among major EU powers over the future of the sanctions policy towards Moscow.
“My assessment is that one should not remove the economic sanctions before Russia has changed its behavior. I believe there is a broad agreement about this in the EU,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.
He was apparently reacting to recent comments by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who slammed NATO for its bellicose policy towards Russia and urged the Western military alliance to consider lifting the anti-Moscow bans in phases.
Steinmeier had said the sanctions should gradually be lifted “if the Russian government showed it was doing its part in implementing the Minsk peace plan for Ukraine.”
His French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault also called on EU leaders to hold talks on possible offers for the easing of anti-Moscow bans if there is progress in the implementation of the peace deals on Ukraine.
There should be a “discussion along with the renewing of sanctions and that should focus on what do we do if there is progress” in the delivery of the peace process, Ayrault said.
“I think that if we can give some signs of encouragement to one side and the other, this could be useful,” he added.
However, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond adopted a harsher stance and said the removal of anti-Russia bans should be tied to the full implementation of Ukraine’s peace deals.
The developments come as EU leaders will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to extend anti-Moscow sanctions from late July until late January 2017. The bans are due to expire in late July.
If they reach an agreement, the financial, energy and defense sanctions on Russia will be formally signed off on Friday.
The United States and the EU imposed a series of sanctions on Russia in the summer of 2014 for allegations that Moscow is arming and supporting pro-Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow, however, has strongly rejected the accusations and imposed tit-for-tat sanctions against the EU.
Western sanctions, which have been in place for the past two years, prohibit certain exports and imports, and ban investment and tourism services by EU-based companies to Crimea.
Russia-West ties have been strained since Crimea decided to rejoin Russia in a referendum in March 2014.
The United States and its European allies accuse Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine. Moscow, however, rejects having a hand in the crisis gripping the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the West for the bloodshed that has plagued the country and left more than 9,000 people dead and over 20,000 others injured.
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