Russia needs to quit Ukraine before sanctions talks begin, says Poroshenko

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko attends a press briefing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured) after talks at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, April 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama/Pool

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - No talks on lifting Western sanctions against Russia should take place until Moscow completely withdraws its military presence from Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday.

Any sanctions relief in return for a partial fulfillment by Russia of the conditions of the Minsk peace deal “will be a direct threat to solving the situation in Donbass,” the region of eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are battling Ukrainian government forces.

Kiev says Russia has sent troops and heavy weapons to the region, but Moscow has repeatedly denied this.

Extended at the end of last year, the Minsk deal signed by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany aims to give Ukraine back control of its border with Russia, see all heavy weapons withdrawn, return hostages and allow an internationally monitored local election in the east.

Speaking after talks with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Bucharest, Poroshenko said he was convinced that early sanctions relief “can prompt Russia to continue its aggressive actions .... The Minsk agreements must be implemented in their entirety.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the first formal meeting with Russia’s envoy to the alliance in almost two years underscored the deep East-West divide over Ukraine.

“It was reconfirmed that we disagree on the facts, on the narrative and the responsibilities in and around Ukraine,” he said.

Reporting by Radu Marinas; editing by John Stonestreet