ATHENS (Reuters) - The European Union will make a swift payment of financial aid to Ukraine, the European Union's economy chief said on Tuesday, dismissing the possibility of economic sanctions against Russia unless it takes more action.
Olli Rehn's comments offered the prospect of quick financial backing from Europe for Ukraine, as Kiev faces a price hike on the gas that it buys from Russia following its attempt to resist interference from Moscow.
The European Union has pledged 11 billion euros (9.12 billion pounds) as part of a package of support with the International Monetary Fund.
"It is in the interests of Ukraine and Europe to maintain peace and stability on our continent," Rehn told journalists on the sidelines of a meeting of European finance ministers in Athens, saying that the first payment would be "made swiftly".
But while he underscored Brussels' desire to back Ukraine, he played down the idea of stiffer penalties on Russia following its annexation of the Ukraine's Crimea.
"As regards sanctions, no sensible European would want to see economic sanctions," he said, adding that none should be necessary if Moscow too no action.
"In case Russia would not escalate the crisis, then we should be able to avoid this sanctions," he said.
So far, the United States and the EU have imposed personal sanctions against Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of the peninsula and Washington has slapped visa bans and asset freezes on senior business figures close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last month, leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial powers decided to hold off on sanctions targeting Moscow's economy unless Putin took further action to destabilise Ukraine or other former Soviet republics.
"It should be possible for Ukraine to develop closer economic and political ties with the EU and maintain good neighbourly relations with Russia," said Rehn.
Reporting By John O'Donnell; Editing by Tom Heneghan