Merkel: Russia may face tougher sanctions

German Chancellor says EU will work on further sanctions if situation in eastern Ukraine worsens

German Chancellor says EU will work on further sanctions if situation in eastern Ukraine worsens

BERLIN - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned Russia it may face further sanctions amid an escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine, but has ruled out sending arms to Ukrainian forces.

Merkel’s remarks Tuesday came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the weekend that Washington was considering sending weapons to Ukraine, a comment which Russian officials denounced as a "provocation."

Merkel said in Berlin in a joint press conference with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: "(EU) foreign ministers made it very clear that if the situation worsens, if there would be a new qualitative step in the wrong direction, than one will have to work on further sanctions. That would then be necessary."

She underlined that Germany would continue its efforts for a political solution to the crisis.

Merkel said: "Even if takes long, even if there will be many futile attempts, and there have been many futile attempts, we pin our hopes on a diplomatic solution.

"As I said yesterday, Germany will not deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine. We are concentrating on a diplomatic solution."

- Intense clashes

Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 30 wounded Monday in clashes with pro-Russian separatists.

At least 224 civilians have been killed and 545 wounded in the region within the last three weeks.

Merkel added: "We think what is needed now is first a cease-fire and then work on the basis of the Minsk agreement," in reference to the Minsk truce agreed  in September last year but not observed by the two sides in Ukraine.

Eastern Ukraine has seen intense clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists since the conflict began in April 2014.

More than 5,358 people have lost their lives in the conflict, according to the UN.

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