BRUSSELS — Ukraine urged the European Union on Thursday to stay united in keeping up sanctions pressure on Russia over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as EU leaders gathered for a two-day summit.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to divide Europe over Ukraine, a show of unity at the summit "will be the best answer."
Russia and the conflict in Ukraine figure high on the agenda of the summit in Brussels but the leaders are unlikely to announce any new sanctions because the peace agreement brokered in Minsk is largely being implemented.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in the year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russia-backed separatists.
The EU has visa bans and asset freezes in place targeting 150 individuals, including high-ranking Russians, and 37 entities such as banks, companies and rebel groups. It also has economic sanctions in place that have hit Russian financial and energy interests.
The 28 EU nations, many with diverging economic and strategic interests in Russia, have struggled to keep a united front when it comes to actions against Moscow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her focus at the EU summit would be to ensure unity on the issue of sanctions and the cease-fire agreement.
"I will work this evening so that the length of the sanctions is guided by the Minsk package and its fulfilment," she told the German parliament before leaving for Brussels.
If cracks appear in the common stand, "this will be the biggest success story for President Putin," Yatsenyuk said. "I strongly reject any debates on easing of sanctions," Yatsenyuk said.
He also expressed optimism about European backing for his government's call to the U.N. for international peacekeepers to be sent to eastern Ukraine.
"Everyone wants to get peace in Europe. One of the tools to reach this peace is to deploy peacekeepers," he said.
The leaders are expected to underline their intent to extend the existing sanctions if the peace agreements are not implemented.
They will affirm their support for the Minsk peace process and underline Russia's responsibility to implement it, according to a draft of their summit statement seen by The Associated Press.
They will also offer help to improve the ability of Europe's OSCE security organization to monitor the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine.
Also on Thursday, an influential European Parliament committee voted in favor of a plan to provide Ukraine with 1.8 billion euros ($1.92 billion) in medium-term loans to help lift the country out of economic recession.
The move makes it a formality that the plan will be formally adopted on March 25, and would see two-thirds of the money disbursed by the end of the year.
Frank Jordans contributed to this article.