The European Union on Friday rolled over for another year sanctions imposed to protest Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which the bloc deems illegal.
The announcement comes amid growing speculation that the bloc will in coming days also renew much wider economic sanctions against Russia for aiding and abetting pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.
“The European Council (of member states) has extended until June 23, 2017, the restrictive measures adopted in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia,” a statement said.
The Crimea sanctions prohibit certain exports and imports, and ban investment and tourism services by EU-based companies there.
The sanctions were imposed in the wake of the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
The broader sanctions targeting economic sectors in Russia were imposed after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014, blamed by the EU on pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
EU diplomatic sources say the economic sanctions will likely be extended for another six months from end-July on the grounds that Russia has failed to live up to its commitments to the Minsk ceasefire accord in eastern Ukraine.
The extension is set to be approved despite growing calls in some EU countries for them to be relaxed.
The EU has also imposed a separate set of visa ban and asset freeze sanctions against individual Russian and Ukrainian figures for backing the separatist cause in early 2014. These measures run until September.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed some 9,400 lives and plunged relations with Moscow into the deep freeze.
At the same time, some EU member states led by Italy make the case that Russia is a neighbour and its help and cooperation is needed in tackling key shared problems, such as the Islamic State terror threat.
For its part, Russia says the sanctions regime is pointless if damaging, and President Vladimir Putin regularly insists Crimea will never be given back.
Today, Putin told a top economic forum in Saint Petersburg he was ready for a fresh start — if the EU also played its part.
“We hold no grudge and are willing to reach out to our European partners but obviously this can’t be a one-sided game,” Putin said, stressing that it was the EU’s introduction of sanctions which had led to the “collapse” in relations.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker made his first visit to Russia this week since the sanctions were imposed, telling Putin that there could be no lifting of sanctions until the Minsk deal was honoured.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko meanwhile said he welcomed the EU’s decision to roll over the Crimea sanctions.
“We will continue fighting until Russia frees Ukraine’s Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbass,” Poroshenko said on Facebook, referring to the rebel-controlled areas of his country.