German army soldiers in their infantry fighting vehicle, the "Marder", arrive for the NATO military drill in Adazi, Latvia, October 4, 2015. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins(reuters_tickers)
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union must prolong its sanctions on Russia this month because the crisis in Ukraine is far from being resolved despite a Franco-German push to implement a peace deal, Ukraine's new Europe minister said on Wednesday.
After briefing NATO envoys in Brussels on the violence in eastern Ukraine, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze said 14 Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the past week and shellings by Russian-backed rebels were intensifying.
"Sanctions must be prolonged because Russia is not delivering," said Klympush-Tsintsadze, who in April became new Ukrainian premier Volodymyr Groysman's minister for EU and NATO ties, one of five deputy prime minister posts.
"When Europe stands united, that is the only language Russia understands," she told Reuters in an interview.
Europe and the United States have linked any softening of the economic sanctions on implementation of a peace deal signed in Minsk in February 2015, which calls for a full ceasefire in the rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.
EU leaders must decide at a June 28-29 summit whether to extend sanctions on Russia's financial, defence and energy sectors over what the West says is Moscow's support for separatists in the conflict that has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014.
The Kremlin denies any direct support for the rebels and last month returned to Kiev jailed Ukrainian military pilot Nadezhda Savchenko in a prisoner exchange welcomed by Western politicians.
Some EU countries, including Greece, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria believe the West's sanctions on Russia, Europe's main energy supplier, are counterproductive for both sides.
Seeking dialogue, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will go to Russia this month and is likely to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. But that is a visit Klympush-Tsintsadze said that "no Ukrainians are happy about".
International OSCE monitors in eastern Ukraine observed a high number of ceasefire violations in their latest weekly report on May 30, which included reports of shelling near two kindergartens and the explosion of an anti-tank mine.
Russia blames Ukraine's military for breaking the ceasefire and wants to see local elections held in eastern Ukraine, something France and Germany have also been trying to help formalise as a potential breakthrough on the peace process.
Klympush-Tsintsadze said Ukraine was discussing whether an armed OSCE police mission could play a role in eastern Ukraine to monitor elections if violence dropped, but that no Russian officials could be part of such a mission.
"It would need Russian approval, but I don't think any Russians could be included because then the mission would no longer be neutral. We need people to monitor that militants have been disarmed and that Russian troops have left.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Alison Williams)