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Britain urges extending EU sanctions against Russia if Ukraine ceasefire breaks down

THE European Union (EU) should consider extending sanctions against Russia if the ceasefire in Ukraine breaks down, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Wednesday.

"Until Russia and the separatists comply, the EU has to stay united to implement sanctions," Hammond said, following a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart, Rui Machete at the Portuguese Foreign Ministry in Lisbon.

"If the ceasefire falls or we determine that Russia is not acting in good faith we must, in the first instance, consider taking a clear position on extending sanctions already in place, which expire in July, and prolong them until the end of the year," he said. "That would send a very strong signal to Moscow."

"We all wish for peace, but I have to say the signs are not good. Putin is calling for the Ukrainian forces to surrender in Debaltseve, which is not in spirit of what was agreed last week and reveals Russia's real intentions," he added.

Russia and the EU on Wednesday traded accusations over violation of ceasefire as Ukraine started to withdraw its government troops from the contested town of Debaltseve in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian armed forces and the National Guard started early Wednesday to withdraw from Debaltseve, a regional strategic hub, amid reports that the pro-independence rebels there besieged the town and the government troops attempted to break through the encirclement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday the ceasefire was almost entirely in place with the exception of the besieged town of Debaltseve.

"The ceasefire is being observed along practically the entire frontline and in a few regions there is a readiness -- at least the militia announced it publicly -- to withdraw heavy weapons. The exception is the Debaltseve 'cauldron'," Lavrov told a news conference.

There are attempts to break through the Debaltsevo encirclement through military forces rather than negotiations, according to Lavrov.

"We stand for the omnipresent (ceasefire), including in the Debaltsevo area," Lavrov said, hoping that the situation in Debaltsevo, where about 8,000 Ukrainian troops have been reportedly surrounded, would not be used to derail the peace process in Ukraine.

Insurgents claimed that the truce, reached in Minsk, capital of Belarus, does not apply to Debaltseve, as rebel leadership consider the town as "an internal territory" of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Meanwhile, on the issue of military support for Ukraine, Hammond said that this was up to each country, but ruled out that Britain will do that "at this moment."


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