Sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Crimean peninsula will remain in place until June 2018, the bloc's foreign ministers decided on Monday.
The sanctions include a ban on all imports and exports with Crimea and the nearby city of Sevastopol relating to transport, energy and telecoms. Investment from EU citizens and companies, as well as the provision of tourism services, are also strictly prohibited.
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"The Council (of member states) extended the restrictive measures in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia until 23 June 2018," a Council statement said. "The EU continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and remains committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy."
The ban dates back to 2014, when Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. Crimea is not internationally recognized as part of Russia.
Russia sanctions also likely to be extended
The measures run in parallel to another set of EU sanctions directly targeting Russia over its role in the Ukraine conflict.
While those sanctions are due to expire in July, EU member states are expected to roll over the measures for at least another six months, despite some ministers voicing their reservations.
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"As usual, the Italians have asked for a formal 'discussion' at the summit, but even they are not opposed to another six months," an unnamed senior EU diplomat told the Reuters news agency.
Italy, along with Greece and Hungary, has taken a more dovish stance towards Russia, arguing that the sanctions do harm to European business interests as well. The measures are intended to restrict Russia's banking sector from accessing international money markets. Arms trading with Moscow is also restricted, as is the sale of some energy-related equipment and technology.
Despite divisions among member states, the EU has so far managed to remain united in its decision to uphold sanctions
The bloc maintains that Russia must be held accountable for supporting pro-Russian rebel forces in eastern Ukraine, while Moscow holds that the EU is to blame for the escalating the conflict by abetting in the overthrow of a legitimate pro-Moscow government. More than 10,000 people have so far died in the fighting.
The crippling economic sanctions against Russia were imposed after the shooting-down of the Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17 over Ukraine, which the EU blames on Russian-backed rebels.
dm/tj (Reuters, dpa AFP)