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EU Agrees To Extend Sanctions On Russia

BRUSSELS -- European Union ambassadors have voted to extend economic sanctions against Russia and annexed Crimea to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

EU foreign ministers are expected to approve the six-month extension of the sanctions on Russia's energy, financial, and military sectors at a meeting in Luxembourg on June 22.

The second measure targets Crimea, which Russian troops occupied ahead of its internationally unrecognized annexation by Moscow, and prohibits EU companies from investing in or importing goods from the peninsula. The EU envoys recommended extending that ban by 12 months, a move that can be given the green light on June 19.

The sanctions were initially imposed for one year, from July 2014, in response to the seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March and Russia's alleged support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

In March, EU heads of government decided that the duration of the restrictive measures against Russia would be linked to the complete implementation of a cease-fire agreed in Minsk in February. But with strains between countries that wanted the bloc to take a hard line against Moscow and others, like Greece, that wanted sanctions eased, a final decision was left for a later date.

Lithuania's EU ambassador, Raimundas Karoblis, told RFE/RL that the scope of the sanctions remains unchanged but they can be expanded if the situation in eastern Ukraine worsens.

"The scope so far is the same -- so it's sanctions against banks, sanctions on export of military and dual-use goods and of energy-related technologies," Karoblis said.

"Probably it reflects the present situation," Karoblis added, "but also in our view the provisions of the European Council conclusion are also valid that in case of the serious deterioration of the situation in eastern Ukraine also the European Council could come back to this issue for the widening of the scope of the sanctions."

The lack of political progress to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine appears to have allowed Brussels to agree unanimously on the six- and 12-month rollovers.

Karoblis noted that recent statements made by Russia with regards to the expansion of its nuclear arsenal may have had an effect on the decision.

"Maybe some [EU] member states expected that Russia would show some progress and make some steps towards the implementation of the Minsk agreement, but it is not the case," he said.

Karoblis said that, on the contrary, "Russia shows also that it is really not changing the stance. Also, there are certain provocations in east Ukraine but not only."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg this month accused Moscow of sending sophisticated new weapons to Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, including artillery and anti-aircraft systems.

"Generally, some announcement of the further programs which could deteriorate the security situation in Europe -- for example, the installation of new nuclear missiles, including the missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave which is close to my country and Poland -- these steps shows that Russia is not constructive."

The EU ambassadors also instructed lower-ranking EU diplomats to begin technical preparations for the renewal of asset freezes and visa bans for 150 individuals and 37 entities whom Brussels blames for the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.

That list, which includes both Russian and Ukrainian citizens, is valid until September 15, but the EU ambassadors want to extend the date to January 31.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.