German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine could be lifted only if a cease-fire agreement between Kyiv and the rebels was fully implemented.
Speaking in Berlin at a joint news conference with visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Merkel said the agreement signed in Belarus' capital, Minsk, on September 5 had to be implemented "in all its points" before the sanctions could be lifted.
Under the Minsk agreement, both sides agreed to a cease-fire and the withdrawal of fighters and military hardware from areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by the Russian-backed separatists.
More than 1,300 people have been killed since the cease-fire agreement was signed. In all, more than 4,700 people have been killed since the separatists launched a rebellion last April.
Merkel said the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine were working to prepare for a possible meeting next week at which the leaders of their countries would discuss the Ukraine crisis, but that progress in the ministers' talks would determine whether that meeting would take place.
The four-way summit is provisionally set for January 15 in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Yatsenyuk said Thursday that Russia had done nothing to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk agreement. He also claimed that Russia's "secret services" were behind a cyberattack Wednesday that temporarily blocked the websites of the German chancellor and parliament.
A group demanding that Berlin cut ties with Ukraine's government claimed responsibility for the cyberattack.
Also Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said during a visit to Riga, Latvia, that she had seen "some limited positive signs on the Russian side'' regarding the Ukraine crisis, as well as a "different Russian attitude." On Wednesday, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said he sensed that Russia wanted a softening of sanctions — creating "an opening we can use."
Meanwhile, the European Commission has offered to lend Ukraine an additional 1.8 billion euros ($2.1 billion) to help it surmount deep economic problems, in addition to the 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion) it loaned Kyiv last year.