EU set to extend Russia sanctions until the end of 2015: diplomats

Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks angry.
Kirill Kudryavtsev

EU leaders meeting in Brussels this month are set to extend sanctions on Russia over its involvement in the fighting in Ukraine until the end of 2015, diplomats said on Friday.

The sanctions, which target economic sectors such as Russia's banks and oil industry, were imposed after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

Leaders of the 28 European Union nations had already agreed in principle in March to roll over the sanctions for another year from July 2015, but they have to make a formal decision when they meet again on June 25-26.

"They should be extended by six months," a European source said. "These sanctions are aligned to the calendar for the implementation of the Minsk accords."

The Minsk deal signed in February by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine led to a ceasefire in the conflict which has left more than 6,400 dead since early 2014.

In March, the EU leaders tied the sanctions to the full implementation of the conditions of the Minsk peace agreement. The Minsk deal states that all conditions — including a complete ceasefire, the pullback of all heavy weapons and the restoration of Ukraine's border with Russia to Ukrainian control — should be fulfilled by the end of 2015.

The EU warned this week that renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine was the most serious breach yet of the Minsk ceasefire.

"There is already a political agreement to extend the sanctions, so that's what we're expecting," another European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"We don't really expect that to cause any problems at the summit."

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of backing the Russian-speaking rebels with weapons, money and troops, which the Kremlin has denied.

The sanctions have caused tensions between hawks and doves in the EU, with debt-hit Greece's new Syriza government in particular unnerving Brussels by cozying up to Moscow and opposing an extension.

The sanctions also bar Europeans from providing Russian firms with equipment for oil exploration or material that has any possible dual military-civilian use.

The EU is also set to extend in coming days targeted sanctions against individuals that were imposed a year ago after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March.