The European Union decided last week that economic sanctions against Russia would be effectively extended until the end of this year. Brussels hopes that the extension will force Moscow to fully implement the Minsk ceasefire deal in Ukraine. “The duration of economic sanctions will be clearly linked to complete implementation of Minsk, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by the end of 2015,” EU President Donald Tusk made it clear. Setting of 2015 “deadline” came after EU hawks had demanded a firm statement of intent on sanctions. The sanctions were introduced after the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over the rebel-held territory in July last year. They were due to expire a year later.
The leaders of all 28 Member States still have to make a formal decision to roll over the punitive measures, which will probably happen at the next EU summit in June. The leaders also agreed to ask Federica Mogherini, chief of European diplomacy, to start preparing a strategy to counter Russian “disinformation campaign”, whichincludes the formation of a special media team. In the meantime, the ceasefire deal brokered by France’s Francois Holland and Germany’s Angela Merkel is still in place. Angela Merkel has already previously emphasized the need to implement key parts of the Minsk deal including the restoration of Kiev’s control of Ukraine-Russia border in the rebel-held parts of the country.
EU leaders admitted that the decision to formally extend the sanctions was not unanimous. Mr Tusk implied that the sanctions could be lifted if Moscow stops supporting pro-Russian rebels.”The European Union still stands ready to support the ceasefire process and to respond positively to progress made,” Mr Tusk commentedbut warned that the EU also “stands ready to take further decisions if necessary”. The EU leaders made it clear that the block would not recognise the annexation of Crimea.Russia still denies any involvement in the Ukrainian conflict and rejects the charges that it supports the rebels with arms and technical assistance.