German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the crisis in Ukraine makes the European Union's partnership with six eastern countries "more important than ever."
Merkel was speaking to the German parliament on May 21 ahead of a two-day summit of the 28-nation EU with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in the Latvian capital, Riga.
Merkel told the Bundestag that Europe's peaceful order had been shaken by Russia's "illegal annexation" of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and continued fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east.
"We will further support our eastern neighbors on their path to a society based on democracy and the rule of law," the chancellor said.
Addressing concerns that the partnership could result in a bitter rivalry between the EU and Russia, Merkel said, "The eastern partnership is not an instrument of EU expansion."
“We must not therefore arouse false expectations which we cannot later fulfill," she added.
Merkel insisted that the initiative was "not aimed against anyone, especially not against Russia."
She also said a return of Russia to the Group of Seven (G7) major economies was "unimaginable" as long as it fails to comply with basic common values of democracy and international law.
"We see the G7 as a community of values,” she said. "And that means working together for freedom, democracy, and for the rule of law. That means respecting the laws of nations and the territorial integrity of nations."
"Russia's actions in Ukraine are not compatible with that,” Merkel added.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, is accused of arming separatists in the country’s east and sending troops there, charges Moscow denies.