Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo
Barcelona - AFP
Spain on Thursday defended EU sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, rejecting repeated criticism of the measures by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
During a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday, Tsipras said the European Union needed "to leave behind this vicious cycle of sanctions".
The 28-nation bloc slapped economic sanctions on Moscow in July 2014 over its perceived support for pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine.
"I can't share the opinion of the Greek prime minister," Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told a joint news conference in Madrid with his Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni.
He reiterated the EU position that links the lifting of the sanctions to the implementation of the Minsk agreement, a deal reached in February 2015 on a cease-fire and political settlement of the conflict between government forces and Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
"The key condition to lift the sanctions is that Russia respect international law. Respecting international law means respecting the Minsk accords, stopping intervening to help the separatists that are in Donbass and giving up the Crimean peninsula," the minister said.
"Once international law is re-established, the time will come to look for formula to end this state of latent tension between Russia and the European Union as well as between Russia and the United States."
Moscow says the sanctions are unjustified and denies involvement in the conflict despite what Kiev and NATO say is strong evidence it has sent troops and weapons into Ukraine to support the separatists, who hold parts of two Russian-speaking provinces bordering Russia.
Russia last year issued a blanket ban on importing most agricultural products from the EU, in retaliation against sanctions imposed by the bloc against Moscow. Greece was particularly hard-hit as over 40 percent of its exports to Russia were farm products.
Strains have been growing within the European Union over the sanctions, which some member governments have only supported reluctantly.
While Britain, Poland and the Baltic states take a tough line, many other EU members, including Italy, Austria, and Cyprus, are sceptical about sanctions.
Tsipras's election victory in Greece in January has strengthened the dovish camp.
Tsipras will discuss the sanctions when he meets with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev later on Thursday, Russian Ecomomy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said.