EU foreign ministers agreed earlier today (22 June) that the economic sanctions against Russia would be prolonged until January 2016 to ensure that the Kremlin will fully implement the peace treaty signed in February 2015. As a EU spokesperson tweeted, “EU has extended economic sanctions against Russia until 31 January 2016, with a view to complete implementation of (the) Minsk agreement”.
The sanctions initially started as asset freezes and travel bans against some Russian and Ukrainian individuals for their involvement in the conflict but they were extended to affect trade and economy after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over territory held by pro-Russia rebels in July last year. After the disaster, the EU and the United States jointly introduced sanctions against oil and defence industries and the banking sector in an attempt to force the implementation of the Minsk agreement. The decision to link sanctions directly to the accord was made in March this year.
Although the agreement has been generally respected, both the Ukrainian government and the rebels have breached rules from time to time. Observers say that there has been a surge in fighting this month. The conflict has so far claimed approximately 6,400 lives. The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are meeting tomorrow (23 June) to discuss the situation. As distinct from this meeting, the European Commission announced last Friday that it had prolonged its specific sanctions related to the annexation of the Crimea until mid-2016.
Such measures include for example bans on cruise ships using ports in the area or exports of transport equipment and telecommunications. The European Council added that they continued to “condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and remains committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy.” Crimea was annexed by Russia in March last year on the grounds that the peninsula’s citizens had voted overwhelmingly in favour of re-joining the Russian homeland.