Merkel, Poroshenko reject early end to sanctions against Russia

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ruled out on Monday an early end to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Speaking in Berlin, both Merkel and Poroshenko said that the sanctions, which were put in place due to Russia's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, could only be lifted once a year-old ceasefire clinched in Minsk is fully implemented.

"We unfortunately still do not have a sustainable ceasefire," Merkel said, despite signs that tensions between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have eased.

Fulfilling the conditions set out in the Minsk peace deal is obligatory if Russia wants the sanctions to be withdrawn, EU and US officials have said.

In February 2015, Merkel and Poroshenko joined French President Francoise Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin in negotiating the Minsk agreement, which includes an immediate and full ceasefire in Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides.

"We see no alternative to Minsk and no alternative to its full implementation," Poroshenko said Monday, standing alongside Merkel in her office in Berlin.

Poroshenko once again lashed out at Russia, describing Moscow and the pro-Russian separatists as the aggressors in the conflict.

"It's bad and terrible that despite the Minsk agreement there is still no security in the war zone of Donbass," the Ukrainian leader said, referring to the Donetsk Basin, a geographical area that comprises Ukraine's two eastern-most regions.

Russia has repeatedly rejected allegations by Western governments and Kiev that it has provided troops and weapons for the conflict. Russia maintains that it only supports the separatists' cause and is using its influence to seek a resolution to the conflict.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has significantly ebbed since late September, when Moscow began a bombing campaign in Syria.

This has prompted speculation that the Kremlin could be more actively pursuing a resolution in Ukraine in hopes of removing crippling Western sanctions against Russia.

Initially imposed in mid-2014, the conflict-related sanctions are directed against state companies and banks and are harsher than those that the West introduced in March that year after Moscow occupied Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula.

The Crimea-related sanctions are primarily against individuals close to Putin.

Russia's oil-dependent economy has been in the doldrums as prices for the commodity plummeted over the past year, spurring a drastic devaluation of Russia's national currency.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine dates back to early 2014, when Kiev ousted its pro-Russian president amid mass protests calling for closer ties to the West.

Russia responded by occupying and annexing Crimea, a predominantly Russian-speaking territory and the site of a critical Russian naval base.

Soon afterwards, a pro-Russian separatist rebellion erupted in Ukraine's two eastern-most regions. More than 8,000 people have died in that conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations.

Last update: Mon, 01/02/2016 - 18:39

More from Europe

Germany, US, others offer to bolster NATO presence around Black Sea

Six NATO countries, including the United States and Germany, offered Wednesday to help bolster the alliance's...

Three earthquakes in Italy cause "apocalyptic" damage, but no victims

Three major earthquakes Wednesday struck a region in central Italy that had already been hit by a deadly seismic...

Belgium closes in on CETA deal as Thursday summit hangs in balance

Belgian regional governments were closing in on a compromise late Wednesday that would allow the country to approve...

Putin: Ukraine cutting power off in Crimea was "serious crime"

Ukraine's shut-off of electricity and drinking water to Crimea following Russia's annexation of the peninsula was "...

Russia drops request for navy to use Spanish port under NATO pressure

Russia has withdrawn its request for warships to use the Spanish port of Ceuta on the Mediterranean Sea, the Russian...