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EU FM's Meet Over Ukraine, Navalny     04/19 06:24

   European Union foreign ministers on Monday were assessing the bloc's 
strategy toward Russia in the wake of the military buildup on Ukraine's borders 
and amid the weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

   BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union foreign ministers on Monday were assessing 
the bloc's strategy toward Russia in the wake of the military buildup on 
Ukraine's borders and amid the weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader 
Alexei Navalny.

   On top of that, the diplomatic standoff between EU member state the Czech 
Republic and Russia over tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions following Prague's 
accusation that Moscow was involved in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion, is 
adding further tension between both sides.

   Diplomats said there was little to no chance of immediate new sanctions on 
Moscow, but they will seek to apply pressure nevertheless. In Germany, some 
politicians have called for an end to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project 
with Russia.

   And over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while 
dialogue with Russia is essential, "clear red lines" carrying possible 
sanctions must also be drawn with Moscow over Ukraine.

   EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell already criticized the Kremlin for its 
arrest and treatment of Navalny on Sunday and insisted he should have access to 
medical professionals he trusts.

   "All in all, the relations with Russia, are not improving, but the contrary, 
the tension is increasing in different fronts," Borrell said in a statement 
ahead of Monday's meeting.

   At the same time the 27 foreign ministers will have a video conference with 
their Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to underscore Western support for the 
government, amid escalating tensions in the country's east and a Russian troop 
buildup across the border.

   On Sunday, Kuleba asked for stronger Western backing, saying "words of 
support aren't enough." Kuleba spoke with his Baltic counterparts who are 
expected to back his call during Monday's meeting.

   "We call on Russia to withdraw their troops," said Borrell.

   More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting between 
Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted 
after Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. The EU has 
steadfastly opposed the annexation but has been unable to do anything about it.

   Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a 
shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks across Ukraine's 
eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas.

 
 
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