BRUSSELS - The European Union decided Monday to temporarily hold off slapping sanctions on more Ukrainian separatists and Russians pending the outcome of possible peace talks this week.
With the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine due to hold negotiations in Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday, the EU has delayed placing asset freezes and travel bans on 19 more individuals, including five Russians, for their actions linked to eastern Ukraine. It said the situation would be reviewed Monday.
"The principle of the sanctions is maintained but the application will depend on what happens on the ground," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Fabius said political advisers would meet Tuesday in Minsk to "hopefully" set up talks for the following day between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
"There is plenty of work left to do. There are a series of questions to answer," he said, including where heavy weapons should be withdrawn and how to secure Ukraine's borders.
The EU foreign ministers are backing fresh diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, many rejecting calls by some U.S. politicians to provide lethal defensive weapons to Kyiv.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said suggestion of sending weapons did not come up in EU talks Monday but if a cease-fire cannot be agreed upon in Minsk — and respected — it would lead to an escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The EU has visa bans and asset freezes on 132 individuals and 28 entities for their actions in eastern Ukraine. Nine more entities — companies and separatist groups — could also be added to the list.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Poroshenko himself supported the EU delay to give time for the peace talks to take place.
David Rising contributed from Berlin.