The European Union is not going to harden its sanctions against Russia over its recent actions in the Azov Sea. Instead, it will offer help to Ukraine and the affected regions. However, the current sanctions will roll over for another six months, EU President Donald Tusk confirmed. Brussels first imposed punitive measures in July 2014 after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board – an attack that is believed to have been caused by pro-Russian rebels. The sanctions that are currently in place generally target whole sectors of Russia’s economy including its oil industry.
“EU unanimously prolongs economic sanctions against Russia given zero progress in implementation of Minsk agreements,” EU President Donald Tusk confirmed in a tweet. Overall, member states remain divided over how to approach Moscow and whether punitive measures are the best way to counter Russian activity in Ukraine. Despite the pressure from the international community, Moscow does not want to release vessels it seized last month in the Strait, which is the gateway to the Sea of Azov near the Crimea region that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Condemning the actions, Brussels is reiterating its support for Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea’s 2014 annexation by Moscow – referring to the capture of Ukrainian naval ships off Crimea in November – and says: “there is no justification for the use of military by force Russia”. The statement issued by the EU demands the release of the captured vessels and their return as well as free passage for all ships through the Kerch Strait. It concludes with the details on financial and other measures to help areas of Eastern Ukraine that is essentially not able to operate freely in its territorial waters due to Russia’s actions. “The EU stands ready to adopt measures to strengthen further its support in favour of the affected areas of Ukraine,” the statement said.