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Tillerson maintains a hard line on the sanctions of Russia on Ukraine

VIENNA (Reuters) – The US Secretary of State U.S. Rex Tillerson kept his hard line on Russia during a visit to Europe on Thursday, saying in front of his Russian counterpart that Washington would maintain sanctions until Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opens a bottle of water at the beginning of a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers in Vienna, Austria, on December 7, 2017. REUTERS / Leonhard Foeger

The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have claimed more than 10,000 lives since it erupted in 2014. Russia denies accusations that it fomented the conflict and provided weapons and fighters.

Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Tillerson went even further by explaining Russia's involvement in the conflict and the consequences it had the previous day when He met with NATO allies in Brussels.

"We must be clear about the origin of this violence," Tillerson said, referring to the growing ceasefire violations recorded by the OSCE Special Observation Mission of observers in eastern Ukraine.

"Russia is arming, leading, training and fighting alongside anti-government forces, and we ask Russia and its representatives to end their harassment, intimidation and attacks on the OSCE's special monitoring mission."

During his trip to Europe, which began in Brussels and will end in Paris, Tillerson has taken a tougher stance on Russia than US President Donald Trump, who has sought better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering some comfort to the European allies.

"In the east of Ukraine we join our European partners in maintaining sanctions until Russia withdraws its forces from the Donbass (region) and fulfills its Minsk commitments," Tillerson said, referring to a previous agreement to promote the peace in Ukraine.

Information by Francois Murphy, Shadia Nasralla, Kirsti Knolle; Edited by Angus MacSwan

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