Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) shakes hands with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko(reuters_tickers)
By Matthias Williams
KIEV (Reuters) - Britain continues to support keeping sanctions on Russia, its foreign minister Boris Johnson said during a visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, adding that London's position was unchanged by June's vote to leave the European Union.
On his first visit to Kiev since taking office, Johnson said it was primarily up to the Kremlin to make progress towards peace in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between Ukrainian troops and separatist rebels has killed more than 9,500 people.
He said he supported the efforts of the foreign ministers of Germany and France, who were also separately in Kiev for talks, to achieve a lasting ceasefire and a roadmap for peace under the so-called Minsk agreement.
There were fears in Kiev ahead of the June 23 EU referendum that a Brexit vote would weaken the EU's support for Ukraine and undermine its resolve to stand up to Russia. Some EU states want sanctions against Russia lifted.
In the run-up to the vote, Johnson, who championed leaving the EU, also publicly linked the Ukraine crisis to what he called the "EU's pretensions to running a defence policy".
"Whatever you want to say about the EU's handling of the issues, the crucial thing now is that we maintain sanctions," Johnson said on Wednesday, while fielding a question that referred to his earlier remarks.
"Brexit or not, it makes no difference to us," he said. "We continue to be a major player, as I've always said, in common foreign and security policy. It's inconceivable that the UK would not be involved in that kind of conversation about sanctions."
Johnson said that the Minsk process was progressing at a "snail's pace" but remained the only way of resolving the conflict in the Donbass region, which erupted after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"Clearly it's up to the Russians primarily to make progress on the security side," he said, speaking to reporters alongside his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin.
"But it's up to all sides I think in this conversation to make progress together."
Moscow denies accusations by Ukraine and NATO that it helps the separatists with troops and arms.
A ceasefire in Donbass was launched to coincide with the start of the school year on Sept. 1. It failed to stop all fighting but the German and French foreign ministers said on Wednesday an attempt to revive a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine from midnight could set the scene for agreement next week on further peace moves.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Ukraine had agreed to abide by a new seven-day truce proposed by Russian-backed separatists and explicitly backed by Moscow.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Catherine Evans)