Tillerson holds tough line on Russian Federation sanctions over Ukraine

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During his trip to Europe, which began in Brussels and will end in Paris, Tillerson has taken a tougher stance on Russia than U.S. President Donald Trump, who has sought better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering some comfort to European allies.

Speaking at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also attended by his Russian counterpart, Tillerson said Moscow was to blame for increased violence in eastern Ukraine and that had to stop.

"We have been clear with Russia that we can not return to business as usual in the NATO-Russia relations, as long as Russia continues its illegal occupation of Ukraine", he said at a press conference at NATO headquarters.

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At a press conference held within the framework of the meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson highlighted Georgia's contribution to NATO's peace operations reaffirming that the U.S. strongly supports Georgia's aspirations to become a NATO member.

Tillerson was to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later in the day, but there appeared little room for compromise after the veteran Moscow envoy branded the idea of a robust United Nations mission a bid to resolve the conflict "by force".

Tillerson noted that more civilians were killed this year in eastern Ukraine than in 2016, and that ceasefire violations are up 60 percent.

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"Deep concern is caused by violations of worldwide law, intervention in the internal affairs, including direct support for government coups, attempts at handling the existing problems by force and the use of unilateral illegitimate measures of coercion", he said.

In his speech, he referred to the 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement, brokered in the Belarussian capital by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

Economic sanctions were placed on Russian Federation by then-US President Barack Obama in 2014 following the country's military action in Crimea and Ukraine.

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He also made clear that Washington did not accept Russia's seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. "Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russian Federation returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine", he said.

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