By Adrian Croft and Aija Krutaine
RIGA (Reuters) - The European Union is ready to step up sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine conflict, but the priority is to bolster a fragile ceasefire agreed in Minsk, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday.
Mogherini, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Latvia, said the need now was to strengthen ceasefire monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a European rights and security watchdog.
Despite some signs of improvement on the ground, there was no question of the EU easing sanctions now, she said.
"They will not be lifted until something really good happens on the ground and on the other side we are always ready to increase the pressure if needed," Mogherini told a conference.
"So far the ceasefire has been starting, not perfect with some violations still, but for sure the trend is a positive one," Mogherini added. "We need ... to strengthen the OSCE mission that is on the ground now."
Her comments come amid continuing violence in Ukraine despite the ceasefire accord reached in Minsk last month, which calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the frontline.
Ukraine and Western governments have accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support separatists in eastern Ukraine, something Russia denies.
Looking to put pressure on Moscow, the U.S. and EU have imposed an array of sanctions over the past year that have damaged the Russian economy, further straining relations between the Russia and the West.
Mogherini warned of a return to a Cold War mentality.
"Any attempt to go back to a logic of confrontation that recalls the 50's from last century is not a European logic. And if someone else in Moscow falls into that trap or promotes that trap it is not for us to follow that mistake."
Britain's foreign minister Philip Hammond said in Warsaw on Friday that the European Union would prepare possible new sanctions on Russia that could be imposed quickly if the Minsk deal was broken.
The Riga meeting comes as Russia said large-scale military exercises had started in southern Russia and in disputed territories on Russia's borders, involving over 2,000 anti-aircraft troops and 500 items of weaponry.
(Reporting by Aija Krutaine and Adrian Croft; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Crispian Balmer)