Gabriel made the plea in an interview with German media on Saturday, adding that a “unified front” was needed against Russia until progress is made in the 2015 peace accord aimed at ending the violence in eastern Ukraine.
“It is important that Europe and the United States present a unified front and stick to the sanctions against Russia until there is progress in implementing the Minsk agreements,” the German foreign minister said.
Since 2014, Ukraine’s east has been the scene of fierce clashes between Kiev’s army and pro-Russia forces, in a conflict which has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people so far.
Kiev and its Western allies accuse Moscow of supporting pro-Russia forces with money and weapons, an allegation strongly rejected by the Kremlin. Moscow, however, says it would intervene if Kiev intensifies its suppression of ethnic Russian population living in the territory.
The US and its allies have so far levied broad economic sanctions against Russia after Crimea Peninsula decided in a referendum to separate from Ukraine and rejoin the Russian Federation in 2014. Russia responded with a broad embargo on food imports from all countries that participated in the original sanctions plan.
In 2014 and 2015, two ceasefire agreements were reached between Kiev and pro-Russians with the mediation of Russia, Germany and France in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, but the deals have so far failed to contain the violence.
Gabriel’s comments come amid a growing division within politicians at home and the entire European Union over the anti-Russia sanctions, which have taken a heavy toll on the European economy.
In June 2016, German President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was then the foreign minister, called on the EU gradually phase out sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine crisis if there is substantial progress in the peace process.
During a visit to Washington on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump discussed the Ukraine issue, with Merkel saying, “There has to be a safe and secure solution for Ukraine, but relationship with Russia has to improve as well.”