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EU holds off on new Russian sanctions until Minsk meeting on Ukraine

The EU foreign ministers are throwing their weight behind fresh diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, left, speaks with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels on Monday, Feb. 9, 2015.

Virginia Mayo/AP

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The European Union decided Monday to hold off temporarily on slapping sanctions on more Russians and Ukrainian separatists and await the outcome of possible peace talks later this week.

With the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine due to hold negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday, the EU has held off placing asset freezes and travel bans on 19 more individuals, including five Russians, for their actions in eastern Ukraine. It said the situation would be reviewed Monday.

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"The principle of the sanctions is maintained but the application will depend on what happens on the ground," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "We will see if the meeting has taken place, what kind of results there are. And then we will be able to draw conclusions."

The EU foreign ministers are throwing their weight behind fresh diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, rejecting calls by some US politicians to provide lethal defensive weapons to Kiev.

But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned that the Minsk meeting is not set in stone yet. He said diplomats from all sides were meeting Monday behind closed doors in Berlin to try to pave the way.

"We hope that the outstanding issues can be resolved to a point that a Minsk meeting would hold some promise and can produce the first steps toward defusing the situation and a cease-fire," he told reporters in Brussels, adding "(but) it's not yet certain."

As the debate continued in Washington on whether to send weapons to the embattled Ukrainian military, most EU ministers said now is not the time to risk escalating tensions.

"We do not see this as progress. It would be easy for the Russians to immediately compensate for that," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders.

Britain as well agreed to hold off for now.

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"The UK is not intending to supply lethal weaponry to Ukraine at this point in time," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.


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