EU leaders agree to extend Russia sanctions over Ukraine

EU leaders agree to extend Russia sanctions over Ukraine
EU leaders have officially confirmed a decision to extend sanctions against Russia over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine for another six months, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced during a European leaders summit in Brussels.

"Agreed. EU will extend economic sanctions against Russia for their lack of implementing the Minsk Agreement," Tusk tweeted on Thursday.

The sanctions were first imposed following the secession of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and subsequently expanded during the outbreak of violence in the east of the country.

They include an arms export ban, limited access to finance for Russian banks, and travel bans for over 150 individuals. Many measures, specifically, prohibit financial interactions with Crimea.

A fundamentally flawed understanding of the situation has led to an incorrect approach to resolving it. The EU has become a hostage of Kiev’s anti-Russian policies, which are aimed at sabotaging the Minsk agreement,” said Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament, Interfax reported.

This is another diplomatic defeat for the EU on the Ukrainian front.”

Negotiated by Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, the Minsk II agreements, were signed in February 2015 and proposes a roadmap for the cessation of hostilities in eastern Ukraine, where two self-proclaimed republics – which were signatories to the deal – have been established. While the scale and scope of open violence has decreased, the region is still heavily militarized, and none of the proposed political reforms or plans for elections have been realized.

Last week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused EU chiefs of “dishonesty” by “claiming that the sanctions will be removed as soon as Moscow complies with the deal,” and urged Brussels to “read one more time… who should do what, and in what order, according to the terms of the deal.

Both Moscow and Kiev say they continue to support Minsk II and accuse each other of not doing enough to implement the principles of the agreement.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said he was “glad to hear” that sanctions against Moscow have been extended following a meeting with Tusk in Brussels. During their discussions, plans for free trade and visa-free travel between the EU and Ukraine, instituted earlier this month, were reaffirmed.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, Lavrov spoke to his US counterpart Rex Tillerson by phone, and “raised the issue of the situation in southeastern Ukraine in the context of the need for additional efforts to fully implement the Minsk agreements."

Last week, the US Secretary of State said bluntly that Washington was not “handcuffed to Minsk,” and hinted at the possibility of a new, different agreement, which could put an end to the standoff between Moscow and Kiev.