Venizelos urges political solution with Russia as EU foreign ministers meet in Athens

Europe wants a political solution to the Ukraine crisis that will not alienate Russia, Greek Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Friday during an informal summit of his European Union peers in Athens.

“Our historic duty is to reach a political, credible and workable solution on Ukraine and, at the same time, keep a communication channel with Russia,” said Venizelos, who is hosting the two-day meeting in the framework of Greece’s EU presidency.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on Russia in a bid to force Moscow to pull its troops back from the former Soviet republic.

“Sanctions are an instrument. For us [however] the target is always the respect of international law,” said Venizelos, who is also Greece’s deputy prime minister.

Other European officials in Athens were less diplomatic in voicing their concern and frustration with Moscow.

“It is really, really important that Russia shows that it is serious about de-escalating by moving troops back,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said ahead of the meeting.

“It’s very important for us to remain strong and united about the sanctions that we have implemented... and to prepare more far-reaching measures if they become necessary,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

“This moment isn’t the moment for phase three of sanctions, but they have to be ready,” said Hague, adding that no decision would be made in Athens.