BERLIN (Reuters) - There is no reason to lift the European Union's sanctions against Russia as Moscow has not fulfilled all of its commitments under an international peace plan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview published on Friday.
Merkel told the RedaktionsNetzwerks Deutschland (RND) that Russia had caused a major crisis by annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and with its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Europe had to react against this violation of basic principles," Merkel said.
She added that she and French President Francois Hollande were working "with all one's strength" to urge Ukraine and Russia to implement the so-called Minsk ceasefire agreement despite all the difficulties.
"This is and remains the yardstick for the future of the sanctions," Merkel said.
Russia has been under U.S. and EU sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine for two years.
With fighting occasionally flaring and both sides blaming each other for failing to implement truce terms, the Minsk peace deal looks moribund.
The EU agreed in June to extend energy, financial and defense sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine until the end of January next year.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other leading Social Democrats, the junior partner in Merkel's ruling coalition, have struck a more conciliatory tone in the past months, saying the EU should gradually phase out sanctions if there was partial progress in the peace process.
But even Steinmeier has said that Russia and Ukraine have hardly made any progress in recent talks to implement the peace plan.
"There are no improvements, especially when it comes to security," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Sawsan Chebli said, adding the negotiations had reached deadlock also in other areas such as political reforms and local elections.
"Still despite the difficult situation and repeated setbacks we think it's important that we keep on trying and do everything we can to make the Minsk peace plan a success," Chebli said.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Dominic Evans)