French President Francois Hollande is calling for sanctions on Russia to be lifted if there is progress in Ukraine.
During a two-hour radio interview, Hollande said sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States had not only hit Russia hard, but were also hurting the European economy. But there must be no new sanctions - and those in place should be lifted if there is progress on Ukraine, he added.
There will be an opportunity for that next week, when Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Putin are scheduled to hold talks in Kazakhstan. Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been invited to join them at the meeting, to be held January 15 in Astana.
Hollande held out the possibility of attending, striking an optimistic note about the talks.
“I will go to Astana on the 15th of January on one condition, which is that there should be a possibility of making new progress. If it's just to meet and talk without making any actual advances then there's no point. But I think there will be progress,'' said Hollande.
Merkel’s office was less committed.
“Such a meeting only makes sense if we can make real progress,'' said Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert Monday.
Sanctions against Russia were imposed last year over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support of separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine. But today, European countries are raising concerns about the effect of the standoff on their own economies. France, for example, has suspended the sale of two warships to Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
Diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany met Monday in Berlin to discuss the efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Hollande said Putin has told him he does not want to annex eastern Ukraine, adding that the Russian leader instead wants to "remain influential" and ensure that Ukraine does not join NATO.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 4,700 lives since last April.
Also Monday, President Poroshenko delivered armored personnel carriers and other military hardware, including four fighter jets, to the military during a ceremony in northwestern Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region.
Poroshenko expressed hope 2015 would be a year of victory and peace for Ukraine, his press office reported.
Kyiv and the West accuse Russia of fueling the conflict by directly supporting the rebels. Moscow denies the charge.