Merkel, Hollande back extended Russia sanctions over Ukraine

Berlin (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday they favour extending EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, ahead of a Brussels summit where the issue will be discussed.

Merkel said that given grave shortcomings in the Ukraine peace process, which has been marred by regular ceasefire violations, "it will be necessary to extend sanctions against Russia once more".

Hollande, speaking at a joint Berlin press conference with Merkel, agreed there had been insufficient progress in implementing the Minsk peace agreements.

"Since there hasn't been an effort made, no progress, and the same blockages remain, I, like the chancellor, am in favour of extending sanctions," he said.

Neither the Ukrainian government nor the pro-Russian rebels waging an insurgency in the country's east have fully implemented the agreements, which are designed to bring an end to a conflict that has claimed 10,000 lives since 2014.

In Brussels, a European official said last week that Merkel and Hollande would recommend extending the sanctions when EU leaders meet at Thursday's summit.

"There appears to be consensus," said the official, adding that a formal deal to prolong sanctions could be clinched in January.

"But for some member states, it's important to listen to Merkel and Hollande first," the official added.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin labelled the comments by Merkel and Hollande "cynical and counterproductive", Interfax news agency reported.

"Russia is doing its utmost to restart the process of implementing the Minsk accords, which is currently stalled by the Kiev authorities."

Imposed in July 2014 after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, the EU sanctions target the Russian energy, defence and finance sectors.

Currently in force until January 31 next year, they are the subject of debate among EU member states, with some arguing they should be lifted as Moscow has imposed retaliatory measures that hurt European farmers.

Merkel and Hollande spoke on the issue of sanctions against Russia on the day that US President-elect Donald Trump tapped ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, an oilman with deep ties to Russia, as his secretary of state.