European Union leaders have said that economic sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until the Minsk peace agreement on eastern Ukraine is fully implemented. The current sanctions were due to expire in July.
EU President Donald Tusk said on Thursday that the decision reached at a two-day EU summit in Brussels showed the common resolve of the 28 EU nations in the face of Russian involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The EU initially implemented the sanctions against Russia eight months ago after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine in July.
"The duration of economic sanctions will be clearly linked to complete implementation of Minsk, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by the end of 2015," Tusk said following the first day of the summit.
The EU currently has visa bans and asset freezes in place which target 150 individuals, including high-ranking Russians, and 37 entities such as banks, companies and rebel groups. It also has economic sanctions in place that have hit Russian financial and energy interests.
Possible further sanctions
Ahead of Thursday's summit Tusk also said that further sanctions were still on the cards for Russia if the conditions of the Minsk ceasefire were not met, saying that the EU "stands ready to take further decisions if necessary."
Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned EU leaders that unified pressure on Russia was still necessary.
"If Putin splits the unity among EU member states and among the leaders of the EU, this will be the biggest success story for Putin and a disaster for the free world," Yatsenyuk said.
The fragile truce in eastern Ukraine was brokered in the Belarus capital by French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Ukraine and Russia on February 12.
Despite Thursday's agreement, a formal decision by all 28 leaders is still needed to officially extend the sanctions to the end of 2015. This is likely to take place at the next EU summit in June.
Since the annexation of Crimea last March, EU state members have been at odds over sanctions against Russia. Despite some countries such as Germany and Italy initially being wary of increasing sanctions for fear of damaging political and economic ties with Russia, others, such as the UK and eastern European states, have always been keen to take a much harder line against Moscow.
ksb/bk (AP, AFP)