Brussels: European Union leaders have tasked their foreign ministers to consider a new wave of sanctions against Russia when they meet in Brussels Thursday, in the wake of fresh violence in eastern Ukraine.
In a rare joint statement on Tuesday, the 28 EU heads of government expressed concern over what they said was Russian support for pro-Moscow rebels who have launched a new military campaign near the city of Mariupol.
"In view of the worsening situation we ask the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council to assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures," the statement said.
The aim was a "swift and comprehensive implementation of Minsk agreements", it said, referring to a largely ignored peace plan dating from September.
"We express our concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. We condemn the killing of civilians during the indiscriminate shelling of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on 24 January 2015," they added.
"We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia`s responsibility," the statement added.
The EU leaders would assess the situation at the next meeting in Brussels on February 12, they said.
Under EU procedures the foreign ministers would task the European Commission, the bloc`s executive arm, with drawing up new sanctions, which would then have to be approved by the leaders.
The EU has imposed a series of sanctions since Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March, tightening them significantly after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in July.
After the Mariupol attack on Saturday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini announced the urgent meeting of European foreign ministers to map out the bloc`s response to the latest violence.
Mogherini last week found herself in hot water after suggesting the EU should take a softer stance with Russia, sparking a sharp response from those who believe only a tough, uncompromising line will get Moscow to change its mind.