September 7, 2017 / 8:36 PM / 16 days ago

Merkel ally criticises minister's comments on Russia sanctions

German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, August 16, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

BERLIN (Reuters) - A member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives on Thursday accused Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of compromising Germany’s credibility by suggesting that sanctions against Russia could be eased without Moscow meeting all conditions.

German media reported that Gabriel, a member of the Social Democratic junior partner in Merkel’s coalition, told a campaign rally this week it did not make sense to wait until all the conditions set in the Minsk peace accords were met before loosening sanctions.

“Let us at least implement a ceasefire and get the heavy weapons withdrawn, then we can lift the sanctions as a reward and help eastern Ukraine with the reconstruction,” Gabriel was quoted as telling a rally in Anklam on Tuesday.

Merkel is expected to win a fourth term on Sept. 24.

Juergen Hardt, a member of parliament and foreign policy expert with Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said Gabriel’s comments marked a sharp departure from current policy, which calls for the sanctions to be maintained until a peace deal agreed in the capital of Belarus is fully implemented.

“Gabriel’s comments raise doubts whether he is sticking to the responsible foreign policy of the coalition led by Chancellor Merkel,” Hardt said.

He said Gabriel was also jeopardising the longer-term success of the Minsk peace deal brokered by France and Germany with Ukraine and Russia.

The foreign ministry was not able to provide a transcript of Gabriel’s remarks since he was speaking at a political event, not a foreign ministry function.

Merkel last month reiterated her stance that sanctions would be lifted when the Minsk accord was implemented.

The war between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists has killed more than 10,000 people in three years.

Kiev accuses Moscow of sending troops and heavy weapons to the region, which Russia denies.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrew Roche

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