Photo from UNIAN

Ukraine’s foreign minister asked the European Union on Monday for hundreds of millions of euros in loans and aid for infrastructure and businesses in its troubled east and south, regions he said Russia was trying to “suffocate”.

EU foreign ministers were discussing increasing support for Ukraine, which holds a presidential election next month in tough conditions of the ongoing Russian aggression, according to Reuters.

The EU’s top diplomat also confirmed the bloc would put more Russians under sanctions over Moscow’s standoff with Kyiv in the Azov Sea, to the southeast of Ukraine.

“We need targeted... support for the Ukrainian south, to work with us on infrastructure... Further Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine’s south would be very detrimental for European security,” Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters in Brussels.

“[There is] an attempt to suffocate the whole Ukrainian Donbas... We need infrastructure, it’s about roads and railways. And to support people... help them to launch new small and medium businesses because we need to fundamentally reshuffle the whole economic model there,” he added.

Read alsoKlimkin informs European colleagues about Russian aggression – MFA Ukraine

Klimkin accused Russia of turning the Donbas region, controlled by Russian proxy forces, into a “big (money) laundering machine”.

The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who chaired Monday’s ministerial meeting, stressed the bloc’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” but also urged Kyiv to press on with economic and political reforms.

Confirming the planned new sanctions against more Russians, she said: “I believe the formal adoption of the legal acts will be finalized in the coming days.”

Despite Western pressure, Moscow has vowed never to return Crimea - home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet - to Ukraine. A peace plan for eastern Ukraine, sponsored by Germany and France, has helped put an end to heavy fighting there but has since largely stalled.

Relations between the EU and Russia plunged to fresh lows last year over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain. But the EU is divided over how hard to punish Moscow - or how far to support Kyiv - as some would prefer to prioritize business ties with Russia.