EU leaders set to extend Russia sanctions at summit
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoEU leaders will debate sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict at a summit this week and are expected to extend them for six months, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Dec. 14.
Italy has called for a discussion at the two-day summit on Dec. 17 after blocking the sanctions rollover from taking place as planned at a meeting of ambassadors from the 28 European Union nations in Brussels last week.
The EU imposed broad economic sanctions targeting Russia's banking, oil and defence sectors after the July 2014 shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet, widely blamed on pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Mogherini said there was agreement that February's Minsk peace accord was "still far from having a full implementation" -- the benchmark set by EU leaders for sanctions to be lifted.
"Politically let me say the general assessment today was clearly going in the direction of a rollover of sanctions," Mogherini added.
"There is a European Council (EU summit) on Thursday so my factual assessment is that most probably it will be on that agenda."
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said he did "not forsee a long discussion" on sanctions at the summit.
Italy, one of Russia's principal trading partners in Europe, said last week it wants to keep communication channels with Moscow open despite the Ukrainian crisis.
There have long been divisions in the EU over the economic sanctions, which have resurfaced in recent months as Brussels and Washington try to get Russia on board to end the Syrian war.
It has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russian and Ukrainian individuals held responsible for backing the pro-Moscow rebels, as well as sanctions targeting those involved in Moscow's annexation of Crimea.