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EU reiterates offers of assistance to Ukraine

EU foreign ministers on Monday reiterated offers of assistance to Ukraine -- but only to a new reforming government -- and stopped short of any immediate threat of sanctions.

BRUSSELS: EU foreign ministers on Monday reiterated offers of assistance to Ukraine -- but only to a new reforming government -- and stopped short of any immediate threat of sanctions.

There was no price tag attached to the promise of assistance and no threat of retaliation despite reports that Washington favours sanctions against those responsible for violence in Ukraine.

Russia meanwhile is reportedly planning to release the next instalment of its $15 billion (11 billion euro) loan to Ukraine at the end of the month after effectively freezing the aid because of the crisis.

A statement issued after talks between the EU's 28 ministers said the bloc was following the crisis "with deep concern" and was "alarmed by the human rights situation".

It called for dialogue between all sides to set up "a new and inclusive government" that would carry out constitutional reforms to give the parliament more powers and prepare for free and fair elections.

"On the basis of a new Ukraine government pursuing economic and political reforms, the EU is ready to further pursue its efforts with the international community and international financial institutions to assist Ukraine," the ministers said.

The statement was hammered out after ministers were briefed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on her meetings last week in Ukraine with the opposition as well as with President Viktor Yanukovych.

It contained a somewhat oblique reference to possible retaliation that sources said was the object of a long discussion, stating that "the EU ... remains ready to respond quickly to any deterioration on the ground."

Sources said that while some countries favoured punitive measures, the consensus was to continue dialogue with the authorities for the moment.

"We have sent the message about consequences if the repression carries on," said Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "We are more in the carrot business than in the stick business."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We agreed that at this point there is no need to decide on sanctions.

"But if we see that Yanukovych and his people block a dialogue, then we will have to speak about sanctions."

His Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn said ministers feared that Russia could toughen its stand on Ukraine after the Sochi Olympics.

"I hope that Russia will try to understand the EU," he said, adding: "It's not the right thing to slam the door on Russia."

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