February 26, 2015 / 2:31 AM / 5 years ago

Kerry suggests Russia sanctions decision could come soon

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies at a Senate Appropriations State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee hearing on review FY2016 funding request and budget justification for the State Department on Capitol Hill in Washington February 24, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday additional sanctions against Russia are “teed up” should events in eastern Ukraine warrant them, and he suggested a decision may come soon.

U.S. leaders will look at whether the Minsk ceasefire plan was being implemented or if there was “some other effort that may be taking place which would immediately merit a much more significant response,” Kerry told lawmakers.

A ceasefire negotiated in the Belarusian capital earlier this month was due to go into force on Feb. 15 but was flouted by pro-Russian separatists who continued to fight Ukrainian troops in a successful effort to take the town of Debaltseve.

However, the ceasefire appeared to be slowly coming into force. In rebel-held eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists were withdrawing heavy guns from the front.

Kiev said it was too early to do likewise, but its acknowledgment that most of the front was quiet suggested it, too, could implement the ceasefire.

During a second appearance before lawmakers on Wednesday, Kerry suggested a decision on further sanctions could come soon.

“Plan B is tougher sanctions and additional support to Ukraine,” Kerry said, adding that U.S. President Barack Obama would make a decision in consultation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, along with French President Francois Hollande, negotiated the latest ceasefire agreement at talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“We’re getting to that critical decision time,” Kerry added. “The president has a number of options that he is asking his team to evaluate and he’ll make the appropriate decision together with discussions with Chancellor Merkel. In fact he may well have talked to Chancellor Merkel.”

Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Eric Beech; Editing by Emily Stephenson and Mohammad Zargham

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