October 24, 2016

EU envoys extend economic sanctions on Russia until end-January – sources

The European Union’s Brussels envoys agreed on Tuesday to extend until the end of January the energy, financial and defence sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, diplomatic sources said.

The bloc’s ministers have yet to formally approve the six-month roll-over but diplomats said there was no doubt they would. France and Britain asked for time to receive comments from their parliaments, though these have no power to block it.

Diplomats said formal ministerial approval had been pencilled in for a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday although it could be held over until an EU leaders summit next week, or even later.

After more than two years of sanctions slapped over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Kiev and backing for east Ukraine’s rebels, the EU is planning a broader review of its policy vis-à-vis Russia in the second half of this year.

The German foreign minister and the Italian prime minister are among a growing chorus of politicians pushing for sanctions relief. In April, the French parliament approved a non-binding resolution calling for the lifting of EU sanctions.

They say the EU can no longer afford to miss out on trading with Russia and that any sanctions should only be a temporary rather than stay in place for too long if they fail to force a change of policy from the Kremlin.

Poland and the Baltic states are more wary of Russia and say the restrictions must hold until a troubled peace plan for east Ukraine is fully implemented.

More than 9,000 people died in fighting there and rival sides in the conflict must yet withdraw heavy arms from the region, Kiev should organise local elections there and Moscow is bound to help Ukraine regain control of its border with Russia.

The EU needs unanimity to decide on sanctions, some of which were slapped over Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Kiev in March 2014, a move that was not recognised by any country in the world. Russia vows not to give back the Black Sea peninsula.

That leaves diplomats in Berlin and Brussels looking at options for a potential partial or gradual sanctions relief.

European Council President Donald Tusk plans to dedicate an evening working session to the bloc’s policy vis-à-vis Russia and the conflict in Ukraine when he chairs a summit of the 28 EU leaders in October.

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