The European Union on Monday (21 December) prolonged punitive measures against Moscow, despite major differences over relations with the Kremlin among its Member States. Russia commented that the extension of sanctions demonstrated that the EU was not willing to improve mutual relations and cooperate more in the areas of common interest, such as fight against terrorism. The Russian foreign ministry commented in an official statement that “it is necessary to point out that instead of building constructive cooperation to counter the key challenges of our times such as international terrorism, the EU in Brussels prefers to continue its short-sighted game of sanctions”.
Brussels backed its decision to extend sanctions saying that Russia did not comply with and fully implement the Minsk peace accords by the end of this year as required. “Since the Minsk agreements will not be fully implemented by 31 December 2015, the duration of the sanctions has been prolonged whilst the Council continues its assessment of progress in implementation,” the EU commented. EU leaders re-iterated that there couldn’t be any relaxation in the sanctions regime before pro-Russian rebels stick to the peace deal. EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstroem, described the 18-month long negotiations with the Kremlin as tough saying “we were quite close to finding some solutions but today there was not enough flexibility from the Russian side”.
The extension of the sanctions comes at the especially tense moment in the triangle of relations between the EU, Ukraine and Russia. As of 1 January, EU-Ukrainian free trade deal, which Moscow is concerned about, will be in effect. The trade deal is part a wider association agreement, which contributed to the toppling of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government in early 2014. The EU tried to negotiate with Russia and persuade it that the deal does not undermine its interest in Ukraine, one of its key markets, but it was not successful in this effort. Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, commented that “neither Ukraine nor the European Union are ready to sign a legally binding agreement which would take into account Russia’s interests.”