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VILNIUS (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday there had hardly been any progress in implementing the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine after three years of conflict, which meant no lifting of sanctions against Russia was in sight.
"(There) have barely been any steps forward, and so we are not in a position to lift sanctions, despite the fact that presumably everyone in Europe wishes we could improve relations with Russia," Gabriel said during a joint news conference with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.
The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has already killed 10,000 people, has heated up in recent weeks despite efforts by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia to implement a ceasefire.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for the rebellion in east Ukraine that began the following month.
Gabriel spoke after a fifth of a million phone users in Ukraine's rebel-controlled eastern city of Donetsk were cut off from the rest of the country after armed men took over the offices and equipment of the main fixed-line telecoms company.
Pro-Russian separatists had warned they would seize businesses in areas they control unless the Ukrainian government ends a rail blockade that has halted coal shipments from rebel territory.
Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michelle Martin/Jeremy Gaunt