BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders have agreed to extend economic sanctions against Russia for six months over Moscow's aggressive actions in Ukraine.
The decision, announced on December 14 at an EU summit, will extend current restrictions against Moscow until July 2018.
The EU measures, which mainly target the Russian banking and energy sectors, were first imposed in the summer of 2014 and have been extended every six months since then.
The EU, along with the United States, imposed the sanctions in retaliation for Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and for its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since it began in April 2014.
EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL on December 8 that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would recommend at the EU summit that the sanctions be extended a further six months.
Merkel said afterwards the leaders met that they "had a very intense discussion on the question of prolonging sanctions" and all agreed that more progress was needed carrying out the peace process outlined in the 2015 Minsk agreement.
"We have prevented an escalation, but we have not enough progress in order to remove the sanctions," Merkel said. "But we all agree that we must do everything to move on with the Minsk process."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the EU decision to extend the sanctions.
"[It is] an important political decision by the leaders of the European Union to continue economic sanctions against Russia for violating Ukraine's territorial integrity and unwillingness to stop hybrid aggression against our country," Poroshenko wrote on his official Facebook page.