EU Extends Curbs on Russia Through End of January 2016

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European Union governments extended sanctions against Russia by six months to the end of January to keep up the pressure on the Kremlin to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

Foreign ministers approved the prolongation of the trade and investment curbs on Monday in Luxembourg, avoiding a high-level political fight at an EU summit later this week. Debt-stricken Greece, which has been courting Russian economic aid, shied away from a veto.

Penalties will continue “against Russia until it meets its Minsk obligations -- so another six months of sanctions,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters. Russia agreed at talks in Minsk, Belarus, in February to help enforce the cease-fire between pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian government.

The European restrictions outlaw financing for major Russian banks, ban the export of sophisticated energy-exploration equipment, and prohibit the sale of weapons and some civilian goods with military uses. Those curbs were set to lapse in late July. A separate blacklist, which runs to Sept. 15, imposes asset freezes and travel bans on 151 people and 37 companies and organizations accused of destabilizing Ukraine.

Russian Reaction

Russia will “act on the principle of reciprocity” over the extension of the sanctions, which are “unjustified and unlawful,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call on Monday.

President Vladimir Putin responded last August to U.S. and European sanctions by banning imports of certain foods to Russia. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered officials to prepare proposals for Putin that would extend Russia’s counter-sanctions against the EU, the Interfax news service reported on Monday.

EU leaders in March made a political declaration to align the sanctions with the end-of-year deadline for full enforcement of the cease-fire. Fighting intensified this month along the line of contact between Ukrainian and rebel troops, putting the truce in jeopardy.

The EU’s extension of sanctions may cause the loss of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of European jobs, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a website statement on Monday. The announcement “looks particularly cynical” on the day Russia marks the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and “we’d like to believe this is a coincidence and not something done on purpose,” he said.

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