EU Said to Delay Russia Sanctions Decision on Italy Concerns

  • Question of six-month extension may now be on EU summit agenda
  • Italy official says political assessment of Minsk pacts needed

The European Union is delaying its decision over a six-month extension of sanctions on Russia after Italy called for a more substantial analysis of progress toward peace in Ukraine, two European officials said.

Italy demanded the 28-nation EU change its plan to push through the extension without debate when national foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private. The issue may now be considered by EU leaders at a summit that starts on Thursday in Brussels, the officials said.

Even if the issue drags on or is placed on the agenda of next week’s summit, a decision to extend is still the most likely outcome, the officials said.

In Rome, the Foreign Ministry declined to comment. An Italian official, who asked not to be named because the issue is confidential, said Italy remained aligned with the position of its European and Western allies. Italy blocked an automatic renewal of the sanctions because it feels a “political assessment” of progress following the Minsk accords is needed, the Italian official said.

Islamic State

While EU relations with the Kremlin have thawed slightly since Russia stepped up strikes on the Islamic State group in Syria, the EU has signaled it is ready to roll over the economic sanctions amid Russia’s slow progress in implementing this year’s Ukrainian peace accord. All EU member states must approve the renewal of the penalties, which have already cost European countries billions of euros in lost exports after Russia imposed counter-sanctions on a range of food products.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters on Friday in Brussels that he also opposed an automatic extension of sanctions.

“It’s important to say that we will take new sanctions if we go in a wrong direction, but we have to be able also to have an analysis before to see if it goes in escalation or de-escalation,” Bettel said. “I don’t want to have the message that the sanctions are over, because the situation is still not finished over there.”

A third European official told reporters in Brussels that a decision may be taken by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, at the summit or when ministers reconvene in January. A fourth official said the EU was working to avoid a discussion at the summit.

While the truce in Ukraine’s easternmost regions has largely held in recent months, some violence persists. The February 2015 peace accord negotiated in the Belarusian capital Minsk requires Ukraine to grant some form of autonomy to the Russian-backed separatists in exchange for regaining full control of its border with Russia. About 8,000 people have died in the conflict since April 2014, according to the United Nations.

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