Russia tries to ease 
tensions over Ukraine 
to head-off sanctions

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The upper house of the Russian parliament has cancelled a resolution allowing the use of military force in Ukraine, a move intended to de-escalate tensions and avoid a new round of Western sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had requested the move, and said it was intended to help support the peace process in Ukraine, which began on Friday with a week-long ceasefire.

Mr Putin needs to show his support for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan ahead of this week’s European Union summit to avoid further Western sanctions.

The EU has warned it could introduce new sanctions that would target entire sectors of the Russian economy if Moscow fails to act.

The vote came as Nato foreign ministers gathered in Brussels, warning that more sanctions are possible and considering ways to bolster Ukraine’s military.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that Mr Putin’s move to rescind permission for military force in Ukraine was an “important psychological point”, but that progress towards a solution remains slow and EU is still prepared to increase sanctions.

Ms Merkel, who was set to have a phone call with Mr Putin, French President Francois Hollande and Mr Poroshenko later in the day, said the EU will do everything possible to help find a diplomatic resolution, but added that “if nothing else helps, sanctions could return to the daily agenda, and this time at the third level”.

Two previous rounds of US and EU sanctions imposed asset freezes and travel bans on members of Mr Putin’s inner circle.

However, Nato’s secretary general warned there are “no signs” Russia is respecting its commitments over Ukraine.