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Merkel backs extending Russia sanctions during Ukrainian president’s visit

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. (Arno Mikkor/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her country’s backing for extending sanctions against Russia as she met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Berlin.

Speaking at a joint press conference on June 18, Merkel said that the sanctions imposed on Russia over its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine must remain in place until Kyiv’s sovereignty is restored there.

“As long as there is no progress on this front, the sanctions cannot be lifted, and the sanctions related to Crimea can only be lifted if Crimea returns to Ukraine,” she said.

The EU, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia over Moscow’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and its support for the separatists holding parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a conflict that has killed some 13,000 people since April 2014.

Cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords in September 2014 and February 2015 have failed to hold.

Ahead of his Berlin visit, Zelenskiy told Germany’s Bild newspaper that the sanctions against Russia should be “expanded.”

Sanctions “are the only means to liberate the occupied region and restore our territorial integrity and sovereignty and return them to our people,” he said, adding: “If this does not work, the mechanism must be expanded.”

On June 17, during a visit to Paris where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, Zelenskiy called for European Union countries not to ease up their “diplomatic and sanctions’ pressure” on Moscow.

In Berlin, both Merkel and Zelenskiy insisted that the peace process in eastern Ukraine needed to be revived.

The German chancellor said that talks between the advisers of the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia were scheduled for July. The four countries are part of the so-called Normandy format for talks aimed at ending the conflict.

A comic actor with no previous political experience, Zelenskiy beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko by a large margin in an April 21 presidential runoff.

His trips to Paris and Berlin were his first official visits to France and Germany since he was inaugurated as president on May 20.

As she welcomed Zelenskiy in Germany, Merkel was seen visibly trembling, raising concerns about the chancellor’s health.

When asked about it at the later press conference, Merkel said: “I’ve drunk at least three glasses of water, which I apparently needed, and now I’m doing very well.”

“She was totally safe,” Zelenskiy added.