Tusk presses EU leaders to pledge to keep sanctions on Russia

ROME/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk is pressing EU leaders to pledge this week to keep sanctions on Russia until a Ukraine ceasefire deal is fully in place, effectively extending sanctions until at least the end of the year.

Europe must maintain pressure on Russia with sanctions until Ukraine has full control of its borders, Tusk said in an interview with several newspapers published on Monday.

“I’m skeptical about the goodwill of the Russians and I’m convinced that what’s needed is to maintain pressure,” he was quoted as saying by Italian daily La Stampa, one of six European newspapers which took part in the interview.

“We have to keep up sanctions until there is full respect for the (Minsk) agreements. That is until Kiev is responsible for its national frontiers,” he was quoted as saying.

EU economic sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict are due to expire in July. Some EU governments want the bloc to act now to renew them, while other want to delay a decision to see how a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine develops.

Tusk is pressing EU leaders, meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, to decide this week that sanctions will not be lifted until Minsk is fulfilled and Ukraine regains control over its eastern border, a senior EU official said.

“If we do not get this now, we will be under constant pressure from Russian propaganda until June and an agreement on that will only get more difficult,” the official, briefing on condition of anonymity, said.

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The Minsk agreement set an end-2015 deadline for Ukrainian border controls with Russia to be restored. At present, eight crossings on the Russian border are beyond Ukraine’s control.

Tusk, former prime minister of Poland, has been one of the strongest critics of Russia’s role in the crisis in Ukraine. His position has support from EU heavyweights Germany and Britain, making it likely to be adopted at the summit.

“I hope we will have a clear political commitment to maintaining sanctions until Minsk has been delivered in its entirety,” British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters in Brussels.

Germany also supports a summit declaration saying EU sanctions on Russia will not be eased unless Moscow complies with the Minsk agreement, two officials said on Saturday.

In the interview, Tusk warned against the danger of a Greek exit from the euro.

“In Germany, certain experts say that ‘Grexit’ would be a solution. I don’t see anything good in that. We have to avoid this idiotic scenario.”

Appointed last year, Tusk’s role as Council president involves steering policy meetings of EU leaders and trying to forge consensus in the union.

Reporting by James Mackenzie in Rome, Adrian Croft and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Editing by Ralph Boulton