Western nations should stop threatening Russia with new sanctions and instead offer to ease off on existing restrictions in exchange for progress in the peace process in Ukraine, President François Hollande of France said in an interview on Monday.
Backing President Vladimir V. Putin into a corner will not work, he said, giving a high-level voice to what is seen as mounting sanctions fatigue among European politicians, as the Ukraine crisis lurches into a second year.
“I’m not for the policy of attaining goals by making things worse,” Mr. Hollande said in the interview on France Inter radio. “I think that sanctions must stop now.”
Russia’s position is misunderstood, he suggested. “Mr. Putin does not want to annex eastern Ukraine, I am sure — he told me so,” Mr. Hollande said. “What he wants is to remain influential. What Mr. Putin wants is that Ukraine not become a member of NATO. The idea of Mr. Putin is to not have an army at Russia’s borders.”
In Germany, the vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, also signaled concerns about the effect of sanctions on Russia’s stability.
“The goal was never to push Russia politically and economically into chaos,” Mr. Gabriel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Germany is the most influential European voice on the sanctions issue, and it is widely assumed that little will happen without the approval of its chancellor, Angela Merkel. A spokesman for Ms. Merkel, Steffen Seibert, clarified to Reuters that “we have a very clear idea of what constitutes real progress” before Germany will consider lifting existing sanctions.
Peace talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are scheduled for Jan. 15, but Ms. Merkel will not attend unless a new agreement seems likely, Mr. Seibert said.
Whatever Mr. Putin’s assurances to Mr. Hollande, in eastern Ukraine over the weekend an ataman, or Cossack leader, posted a video calling Mr. Putin “our emperor.”