Brussels (AFP) - Europe must not weaken its sanctions against Russia, a senior US official said Tuesday, warning that Moscow posed a "clear and present danger" to the West that was "getting worse and not better".
Washington is pressing EU countries to maintain tough sanctions imposed on Russia over the annexation of Crimea and the Ukraine crisis, as Italy's pro-Kremlin government pushes the bloc to relax the pressure on Moscow.
On a trip to Moscow last month, Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denounced the "madness" of western sanctions against Russia and launched a fierce attack on EU policy.
David Tessler, deputy director of policy planning staff for the US Secretary of State, told reporters in Brussels that fresh sanctions against Moscow were under consideration over the nerve agent attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain.
Tessler said the success of sanctions against Russia depended on close coordination with Europe and he has been shuttling around European capitals for the last 18 months to press the case.
"Our sanctions must remain strong until we see the behaviour change in Moscow that we're all looking for," Tessler said.
"We do not believe in any relaxation of sanctions before there's full behaviour change, full implementation of Russian commitments."
Tessler said he recently visited Austria, where the government is seen as more sympathetic to Moscow and whose foreign minister danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin at her wedding in the summer, and would travel to Rome soon to lobby the government there.
As well as the Ukraine crisis and the Skripal poisoning, Moscow is also accused of seeking to influence numerous elections around Europe and the US through disinformation campaigns and of launching countless cyber attacks on various civilian targets.
Russia's cyber campaign hit the headlines last month when the Netherlands foiled a plot by suspected Kremlin intelligence agents to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog in the Hague.
Despite stinging US and European sanctions, Tessler said, Washington believes that the threat from Russia is "getting worse and not better".
"It is for us not a theoretical debate that we can casually talk about -- it is a clear and present danger that the Russians pose that we are combating," he said.