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EU Agrees To Extend Russian Sanctions Over Ukraine

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (left) and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, attend the extraordinary European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on January 29.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (left) and his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, attend the extraordinary European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on January 29.

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The European Union has decided to extend until September an initial group of sanctions against Russian and pro-Russia separatist officials due to the continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and has plans for further action.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on January 29 after an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels that sanctions due to expire in March had been extended by six months.

She added that "we have shown that the EU is ready to take further measures."

The extension was agreed to by all 28 EU member countries, including Greece, which had objected to the extension of the sanction the previous day.

The ministers also agreed to draw up a list of additional individuals to be potentially slapped with sanctions when they convene in Brussels on February 9.

EU leaders are due to hold a summit on February 12 to discuss new action against a fresh group of Russian and pro-Moscow separatist officials.

Calls for the sanctions to be extended came after a rocket attack on the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol last week that killed 30 people and wounded dozens more.

Kyiv and the West say the rebels have stepped up attacks in violation of a cease-fire deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, decreasing the chances of ending a conflict that has killed more than 5,100 people since April.

Rebels have said that the terms of the Minsk agreement are no longer in force and vowed to seize more ground in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

WATCH: Avdiivka, just north of Donetsk, has been shelled by both sides of the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. There are no soldiers in the town, and many inhabitants have also left. Those who remain have no running water or electricity, many have no gas. Schools and shops are closed. RFE/RL's Shahida Yakub calls it a ''city of ghosts.'' She filed this video report:

Avdiyivka, 'City Of Ghosts' In Eastern Ukrainei
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February 01, 2015
Avdiyivka, just north of Donetsk, has been shelled by both sides of the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. There are no soldiers in the town, and many inhabitants have also left. Those who remain have no running water or electricity, many have no gas. Schools and shops are closed. RFE/RL's Shahida Yakub, who visited on January 28, describes it as a ''city of ghosts.''


U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on January 29 called the EU's decision to consider fresh sanctions against individuals in response to the Ukraine crisis “a positive step.”

"This is just a further sign that the actions of the last several days and weeks are absolutely unacceptable and that there will be new consequences put in place," Psaki said.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has been coordinating its Ukraine-related sanctions with Brussels. But Psaki said but Washington is not immediately planning to announce a fresh round of sanctions.

"We'll continue to consider others that we could add, but I don't think there's anything to expect today," she said.

The EU statement issued on January 29 did not specifically mention imposing new economic sanctions, stating instead that the bloc would consider “any appropriate action.” 

Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard expressed satisfaction that the statement did not reference potential economic sanctions against Russia, suggesting such language could impeded further talks with Moscow.

"It makes sense that we don't decide on economic sanctions before we see how Russia will behave. We still have the hope that this will be the push to Russia to go to the negotiation table," said Lidegaard said.

The statement also failed to include the phrase "further restrictive measures" that was part of a draft statement prior to the meeting. Mogherini said it would be up to EU heads of state to consider such measures when they meet in Brussels next month. 

She indicated that fresh economic sanctions against Russia are still in play, however.

"When we say any action, it means any," she said.

German officials said harsher sanctions would be necessary should pro-Russian rebels make further major advances on the ground in eastern Ukraine. 

In the days before the January 29 talks in Brussels, the office of new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras complained that it had not been consulted prior to a statement issued by EU heads of state calling for new restrictions in response to the escalating conflict in Ukraine.

Tsipras’ government is widely seen as backing a friendlier approach to relations with Moscow. 

But Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that his new Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, told the meeting that he is “not a Russian puppet.”

"Greece is working for the restoration of peace and stability in Ukraine and, at the same time, is working to prevent a rift between the EU and Russia," Kotzias said in Brussels.

Russia denies sending troops to eastern Ukraine to aid the rebels, saying the only Russians fighting there are "volunteers."

But the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said on January 28 that Russia has deployed seven "mobile military crematoriums" in the eastern Donetsk region to burn the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in combat there.

Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said the crematoriums are mounted on Kamaz trucks and said each is burning eight to 10 bodies per day.

He said Ukraine had "documented this information" but did not explain how.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and dpa

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