European Union officials have given preliminary approval to broadening the bloc's Ukraine-related sanctions to include people, companies or organizations that have profited illicitly from Russia's takeover of Crimea.

Brussels - European Parliament head Martin Schulz expressed horror Tuesday after Azerbaijan brushed aside criticism of its pardon for a soldier who axed an Armenian officer to death in his sleep.

Schulz added his voice to condemnation of the pardon - already sharply criticised by the US and EU President Herman Van Rompuy - after Baku's foreign minister appeared to blame Yerevan for Azerbaijani soldier Ramil Safarov's 2004 killing of Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian.

In a move that has ratcheted up tensions between the ex-Soviet foes, Azerbaijan pardoned Safarov last week after he was extradited from Hungary, where he had been serving a life sentence for the murder.

“The convention on the transfer of sentenced people should not be abused for political purpose,” Schulz said in a statement.

“I am disturbed by what appears to be a politically motivated pardon of Mr Safarov by the president of Azerbaijan,” he added, while urging Azerbaijan and Armenia “to avoid any moves and statements that might exacerbate the situation.”

Safarov hacked Margarian to death in his sleep at a military academy in Budapest where the servicemen were attending English-language courses organised by NATO.

His lawyers claimed in court that he was traumatised because some of his relatives had been killed during Azerbaijan's war with Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh in the 1990s, and alleged that Margarian had insulted his country.

Earlier Tuesday, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov told US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns that the murder was “directly related” to the war.

“Ramil Safarov and his family, like a million other Azerbaijanis, are forced refugees and as a result of ethnic cleansing, they were expelled from their homes. First of all, this must be taken into account,” Mammadyarov said.

The US State Department has said it is “extremely troubled” by the pardon. - Sapa-AFP