British PM Theresa May leaves at the end of the EU Summit in Brussels on December 15. Photograph: (AFP)
EU leaders agreed to extend for another six months damaging economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis
European Union leaders agreed on Thursday to extend the bloc`s main economic sanctions against Russia over the turmoil in Ukraine for six months until mid-2017, diplomats said.
The decision was expected and the formal process to extend the sanctions on Russia`s defence, energy and financial sectors will take place early next week, they said.
"We welcome unanimous decision by the EU to extend economic and sectoral sanctions against Russia," Ukraine`s president, Petro Poroshenko, said in a statement.
"I am sincerely grateful for unwavering unity and solidarity of the European leaders in restoring Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea."
The bloc slapped sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine`s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and stepped them up as Moscow went on to support a separatist rebellion in Ukraine`s industrial east.
The conflict is not resolved and has killed nearly 10,000 people.
The decision was also meant as a signal to US President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on January 20 and has worried the EU with his promises to seek a rapprochement with Russia.
"It would send a very bad signal vis-a-vis Trump if we shied away from this extension, or prolonged them by a shorter period of time," a senior EU official said.
Poland was among the EU states that wanted a longer extension of the sanctions, but Italy has been a leading voice in the bloc in calling for re-establishing business ties with Moscow.
Despite threats in October by some EU leaders, the bloc has shied away from slapping new sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Syria.
In a separate decision on Thursday, EU leaders agreed to spell out limits to a landmark cooperation accord with Ukraine in order to address Dutch concerns and prevent the deal from falling through.