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EU to extend Russia economic sanctions for another six months

European Union envoys have agreed to prolong their bloc's economic sanctions against Russia for six months. The bans are aimed at curbing Russia's influence in eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine.

Brussels-based ambassadors of the European Union's 28-member bloc agreed to roll over

tough economic sanctions

against Russia on Tuesday, diplomatic sources said.

The six-month extension involves the harsh oil, financial and defense sanctions imposed on Moscow. They hinder Russian imports into the EU as well as Russian banks' access to markets in Europe.

This strict set of sanctions was due to expire in July, but will now run until January 2017. The decision will now pass to ministers for formal approval on Friday.

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Tuesday's approved sanctions were initially imposed following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014, an attack blamed on pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Last week, the EU approved sanctions

against the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula until June 2017.

The sanctions prohibit EU members from importing products from Crimea, investing in the region, cooperating on tourism and exporting certain goods and services.

Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014, prompting sanctions from both Brussels and Washington.

A separate set of visa bans and asset-freezing measures against individual figures from Russia and Ukraine for backing the separatists in 2014 will run until September.

In March 2015, the European Council linked the duration of those economic restrictions to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements.

The sanctions have been controversial from the beginning,

with Germany,

Italy and Hungary concerned they may prompt a standoff with Russia, who is still a major political and economic partner.

rs/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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