BERLIN Germany's Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on Thursday for the European Union to try to create conditions by this summer to lift sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
"That must be our common goal," said Gabriel, whose Social Democrats (SDP) share power with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives.
The West imposed sanctions on Russia two years ago over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Germany and France have said lifting sanctions are conditional on Russia complying with the terms of the Minsk peace process which has stalled.
EU governments have extended asset freezes and travel bans on Russians and Russian companies but there is less consensus on whether to prolong more far-reaching sanctions on Russia's banking, defense and energy sectors from July.
At a German-Russian forum in Berlin, Gabriel also spoke out in favor of pursuing an EU free trade deal with Russia, like the one being worked on with the United States.
"(We should) aim for such a deal with the Russian Federation with all our strength," said Gabriel, adding this was not a short term goal.
(Reporting by Gernot Heller; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)