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Hague: EU must ready tougher Russia sanctions

Friday - 4/4/2014, 8:07am  ET

Vice President of the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and security policy Catherine Ashton, right, speaks to the press as she arrives for an Informal meeting of Ministers For Foreign Affairs at Zappeion Hall in Athens, on Friday, April 4, 2014. European Union foreign ministers meeting in Athens on Friday urged Russia to take concrete steps to pull troops back from its border with Ukraine but said they wanted to keep communication with Moscow open.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- The European Union must have stronger sanctions ready to impose against Russia if they "become necessary," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Friday, as he arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Athens.

The crisis in Ukraine tops the agenda at the informal foreign ministers' meeting, which will also discuss Syria. Ukraine's fledging government and Western leaders have expressed concern about a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.

"It's very important for us to remain strong and united about the sanctions that we have implemented against individuals in Russia and Crimea, and to prepare more far-reaching measures if they become necessary," Hague said, but added that such a decision wouldn't be taken at the informal meeting in Athens. Sanctions in place now are mainly against individuals.

"This moment isn't the moment for Phase Three of sanctions, but they have to be ready," Hague said, referring to harsher measures than those already imposed. "Because the situation remains very dangerous, it remains very tense."

EU finance officials cautioned earlier this week of the consequences of sanctions against Russia, saying its economy has already slowed down.

The 28-nation bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the EU was "watching very carefully what happens" on the Russian-Ukrainian border.

"It is really, really important that Russia shows that it is serious about de-escalation by moving troops back," Ashton said as she arrived for the meeting.

Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek foreign minister, insisted that the EU ultimately wanted a political solution to the Ukraine crisis.

"Sanctions are an instrument. (But) for us the target is always the respect of the international law," he said.

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