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Ukraine President Calls for Sustained US Sanctions on Russia

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, right, and his Estonian counterpart Kersti Kaljulaid inspect an honor guard during Poroshenko's visit in Tallinn, Estonia Jan. 23, 2017.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday called on world powers to maintain sanctions against Russia, apparently in response to comments by President Donald Trump that indicated a U.S. willingness to ease the longstanding restrictions.

Earlier this month, Trump told The Wall Street Journal he would consider lifting some sanctions if Moscow supported U.S. counterterror objectives.

Last week he told The Times of London that sanctions against Russia could be fully eliminated as part of a nuclear arms reduction deal.

The United States, the European Union and others imposed sanctions on Russia in early 2014 over its annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine and its support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine's east.

“We've enjoyed very strong bipartisan support in the United States during the last three years, and we don't see any reason to change this situation," Poroshenko told the press when asked about Trump's comments during a stopover in Estonia.

Bolstering NATO's eastern flank

Poroshenko's comments to the media came amid a two-day diplomatic tour of Estonia and Finland. Troops from both nations have participated in U.S.-backed military exercises aimed at countering Russia's heightened military presence along the coastal Baltics and Eastern Europe. Poland-bound U.S. tanks arrived in Germany earlier this month as part of a move to reassure nervous allies by pre-positioning artillery and military equipment throughout NATO's eastern flank.

“We don't see any connection [between reducing or eliminating sanctions and] possible progress in the Middle East and the situation in Ukraine,” Poroshenko added during a later stop in Finland. “With that situation, the only effective way is sanctions, to motivate the Russian Federation, President Putin, to be at the negotiating table.”

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, right, tours the Finnish Parliament with the Speaker of the Finnish Parliament Maria Lohela during his one-day visit to Finland in Helsinki, Jan. 24, 2017.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, right, tours the Finnish Parliament with the Speaker of the Finnish Parliament Maria Lohela during his one-day visit to Finland in Helsinki, Jan. 24, 2017.

Sanctions called vital

Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, Ukraine's former top diplomat and one-time ambassador to the United States, called ongoing sanctions vital to long-term U.S. interests.

“It's all important for the United States, and the president of the United States, to be engaged with the world, and the world to be engaged with United States, which is now headed by President Trump,” he told VOA's Ukraine Service.

“It is also all important for the Ukrainian government,” he added. “Ukraine is a nation ready to make sure that everything will be done — no effort spared — to make sure that this relationship will be ... a two-way street where the need for the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law, as well as the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine, will be seen by the new administration as in the best interest of the American people.”

Deal signed with Lithuania, Estonia

On Sunday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Western sanctions on Russia are likely to remain in place “for a long time” despite expectations that Trump's presidency will reduce tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Despite Trump's campaign trail criticism of NATO, the United States last week signed defense cooperation agreements with Lithuania and Estonia, formalizing the deployment of thousands of troops to bolster NATO defenses in the face of a Russian threat of aggression.

The agreements, signed Tuesday, will regulate the legal status of U.S. armed forces in the two Baltic states and are part of the biggest NATO reinforcement since the end of the Cold War.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Ukrainian Service. Some information was provided by Reuters.