BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday she saw a "glimmer of hope" for a political solution to the Ukraine crisis, but insisted sanctions against Russia could be rolled back only once the Minsk peace plan was fully implemented.
The European Union and United States have imposed sanctions against Russia because of its annexation of Crimea and its support for separatist rebels in Ukraine's eastern regions.
Speaking in the Bundestag lower house of parliament, Merkel welcomed a decision by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to delay disputed local elections there.
She also welcomed the fact that a truce has been largely holding since the start of September, allowing the adversaries to extend a pull-back of weapons and raising hopes for the fragile peace process.
"I'm speaking of a glimmer of hope, nothing more and nothing less," the conservative leader said. "But this offers us the opportunity now to finally make progress on the road to a political solution."
But she added that the sanctions against Russia could be removed only when the peace plan, worked out in Minsk, Belarus, in February, had been fully complied with.
"The indispensable keystone of Minsk is the full withdrawal of illegally stationed troops and mercenaries in Ukraine and Ukraine regaining full control over its borders," she said.
Ukraine and Western governments say the rebels are armed by Russia and supported by a large force of Russian intelligence officers and advisers. This is denied by Moscow.
Her words appeared to end speculation that Germany might support a lifting of sanctions against Russia in order to win Moscow's cooperation over Syria, as suggested by her economy minister last month.
Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Richard Balmforth