The European Union will retain a package of economic sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the Kremlin's support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The sanctions affect Russia's mostly state-owned finance, defence and energy sectors, restricting access to international capital markets and to Western technologies. Sanctions have also been imposed to freeze the assets of some 140 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and companies.
The Committee of EU Permanent Representatives - ambassadors from the 28 EU countries - met on September 30 to assess how the ceasefire and a peace plan in Ukraine are being implemented. Unanimous support of all 28 EU member states would have been necessary for any change to sanctions against Russia.
“While encouraging developments have been registered in the political process and in the implementation of some aspects of the Minsk Protocol, relevant parts of the same protocol will need to be properly implemented,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told newswires in an email. The EU “will continue to closely monitor developments on the ground and review the implementation of the Minsk Protocol” when considering any review of the sanctions placed on Russia, she added.
"We are keeping the status quo," one EU official said, as quoted by Reuters. "Nobody even talked about the possibility [of lifting sanctions], given the situation on the ground," another official said.
Seven Ukrainian soldiers died on September 29 when their armoured personnel carrier was destroyed by a shell apparently fired by a rebel tank, a Ukrainian military spokesman said. NATO officials have stated that most Russian forces have pulled out from Ukraine, but some remain inside the country, with thousands on the Russia side of the border.
The next review of the effectiveness of sanctions on Russia is scheduled for the end of October. If there were then agreement to lift the sanctions, the European Commission and its European External Action Service would make proposals to the EU’s national governments grouped in the European Council. “If the situation on the ground so warrants, the Commission and the EEAS would be invited to put forward to the Council proposals to amend, suspend or repeal the set of sanctions in force, in all or in part,” Kocijancic said in an email.
The EU has been split over the sanctions, with some EU politicians - such as Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - critical.
Johannes Hahn, the EU's nominee to succeed Czech diplomat Stefan Fule as head of enlargement policy at the European Commission, said on September 30 that the bloc was united in opposing Russian backing for the rebels in eastern Ukraine. "Russia should not underestimate the EU's resolve to stand by its principles," Hahn told the European Parliament at his confirmation hearing. "Until territorial sovereignty has been restored [to Ukraine], we cannot make any concessions to Russia," he said, as quoted by Reuters.
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