The 28 EU foreign ministers have formally agreed to extend a set of punitive measures imposed against Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict. The sanctions have been prolonged for another six months.
EU sanctions against Russia would be extended until January 31 next year, the European Union announced Monday, under efforts to force Moscow to abide by the Minsk ceasefire agreement in the Ukraine conflict.
The 28-nation bloc initially imposed travel bans and asset freezes against Russian and Ukrainian figures for their part in the Ukraine crisis. But after pro-Russian rebels allegedly shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July last year, Brussels stiffened its punitive measures. Since then Russian banks have been cut off from financing on Western markets, and the country's crucial energy industry has been hit by an export ban on crucial technology.
Russia has retaliated by imposing an embargo on imports of fruit and vegetables from the EU. On Monday, Moscow again condemned the Western measures, saying they were unfounded.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "reciprocity is the basis for our approach." According to Russian news agency RIA, Russian Prime Minister Medvedev had ordered preparations for possible retaliatory measures following the EU decision.
In March, EU leaders agreed in principle to roll the sanctions over by linking them directly to the ceasefire brokered by France and Germany that runs to December this year. The agreement has largely held since then, but Kyiv and the rebels regularly accuse each other breaching the pact. Earlier this month fighting flared up again, in a conflict which has claimed more than 6,400 lives so far.
Already on Friday, the European Council prolonged until June 2016 sanctions imposed to punish Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. The Council, which groups the bloc's political leaders, said they continued to "condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and remains committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy."
Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014 following the ouster of pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych in Kyiv, saying the peninsula had voted overwhelming in favor of returning to its Russian homeland.
The Crimea sanctions include bans on cruise ships using ports there and restrictions on exports of telecommunications and transport equipment, in addition to visa bans and asset freezes against figures said to have helped the Russian annexation.
uhe/tko (Reuters, AFP)