LUXEMBOURG — EU foreign ministers formally agreed Monday to prolong to January 2016 damaging economic sanctions against Russia to ensure it fully implements Ukraine peace accords, officials said.
“EU has extended economic sanctions against Russia until 31 January 2016, with a view to complete implementation of (the) Minsk agreement,” an EU spokeswoman said in a tweeted message.
The 28-nation bloc initially imposed travel bans and asset freezes against Russian and Ukrainian figures for their part in the crisis but then reacted sharply after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in July over territory held by pro-Moscow rebels.
Brussels hit Russia’s banking, oil and defense sectors hard and, along with the United States, has warned more sanctions could follow unless Moscow lives up to its Minsk commitments in February to withdraw support for the rebels and use its influence with them to implement the accord.
In March, EU leaders agreed in principle to roll the sanctions over by linking them directly to the ceasefire brokered by France and Germany in Minsk that runs to December this year.
The ceasefire has largely held since then but Kiev and the rebels swap charges daily over breaches and observers reported a sharp pick up in fighting earlier this month in a conflict which has claimed more than 6,400 lives and destroyed much of eastern Ukraine.
The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are due to meet in Paris on Tuesday to review the situation.
Separately, the EU announced Friday that it had prolonged until June 2016 sanctions imposed to punish Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
The European 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 Kiev, 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.
The Ukraine crisis has plunged EU and US ties with Russia into the deep freeze, with some of the exchanges reminiscent of Cold War tensions.