European Union leaders are unlikely to reach agreement at their summit next week to prolong economic sanctions on Russia that expire in July, a senior EU official said today (13 March).
New sanctions on Russia are also off the table for now because EU governments want to give the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine a chance.
But some of the EU’s 28 member states had pushed for an early decision on extending sanctions on Russia’s financial, energy and defence sectors. The measures were adopted in July last year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
While leaders will discuss sanctions at next week’s summit, the senior EU official said a majority would probably want to hold over discussion of renewing the economic sanctions on Russia until July. Sanctions need the support of all member states before they can be applied, according to EU law.
“I don’t think there is unanimity at all for the rollover of sanctions, the sanctions that are due in July,” the official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Friday that new or extended EU sanctions against Russia would not help the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.
“The ceasefire needs to be supported and we will hardly support it by saying that we will bring some new and further and further sanctions,” Fico said in Prague.
The EU is divided on sanctions and Fico has in the past called them “meaningless and counterproductive”.
Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Laj?ák said the prevailing view in the EU was that sanctions should remain in place in their current form for the time being.
“We have not gotten that far that we could talk about cancelling sanctions,” Laj?ák told reporters in Slovakia.
EU governments did agree on Friday to prolong sanctions on a list of Ukrainian and Russian individuals and companies accused of undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
The asset freezes and travel bans on 150 people and 37 organisations were extended for a further six months, until 15 September. Details will be published in the EU’s Official Journal on Saturday.
The decision was a formality after EU foreign ministers agreed in January to extend the sanctions.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders had committed to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
European leaders on 2 March said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.