Foreign secretary will inform ministers UK position has not softened as he appears to blame Putin for recent violence in Ukraine

Boris Johnson has said the British government will insist on the EU maintaining its imposing sanctions on Russia, in comments that appeared to blame Vladimir Putin for a recent outbreak of violence in east Ukraine.

As he arrived at an EU foreign affairs council session in Brussels on Monday, the British foreign secretary told reporters there was no case for relaxation of measures, which include asset freezes and visa bans on people and entities associated with the Kremlin.

In a move that indicates the British government expressed the wish to distance itself from Donald Trump on the issue, Johnson said he would be talking with his fellow EU foreign ministers about the recent upsurge in violence in east Ukraine but that the UKs position had not softened.

The conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists flared up again last week, leaving up to 19 dead and thousands of people without water and heating in freezing temperatures.

During a press conference with Theresa May in Washington, however, Trumps response when asked about the continuation of sanctions against Putin was to say: Well watch what happens.

Some member states are understood to believe that the EU will not be able to maintain its sanctions if the Trump administration unilaterally lifts its measures.

However, Johnson told: Everybody is very concerned about that[ the recent violence] so the causes as you know arent quite clear; theres a bit of murkiness about who initiated that but the UK will be insisting there is no case for relaxation of the sanctions[ and] every instance for keeping up the pressure on Russia.

Russia annexed Crimea nearly three years ago, inspiring the EU and US to impose sanctions on Kremlin officials and associates. These were later extended to economy-wide sanctions after a Russian weapon shot down a Malaysia Airline plane, killing 298 people.

Also speaking on Monday, the EUs foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the EU would never recognise Russias annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and insisted all sides must respect the Minsk peace agreement.

Arriving to chair the meeting of EU foreign ministers, Mogherini told: I cannot say where the US administration stands on this, but I can say where the Europeans stand on this.

Over the weekend, Trump defended Putin against the accusation that he is a killer, telling Fox News: Weve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our countrys so innocent?

However, despite Trumps remarks, the US vice-president, Mike Pence, participated at the violence in Ukraine, telling: Were watching and very troubled by the increased antagonisms.

On Friday Nikki Haley, the newly appointed US ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the aggressive actions of Russia as she said the USs Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine. Her statements represented the first severe criticism of Russia by the Trump administration.

The conflict in east Ukraine has cost more than 10,000 lives. A ceasefire was concurred in Minsk two years ago but little progress has been stimulated since then on a political solution.

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