The European Union will extend economic sanctions against Russia for another six months because of Moscow's actions in Ukraine, the EU ambassadors agreed in Brussels on December 18.
The measures, imposed in the summer of 2014 after Moscow's annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a pro-Russian insurgency in East Ukraine, will remain in place until July 31, 2016. They affect Russia's financial, energy, and military sectors and also specific persons in the Russian leadership who are linked to the Ukraine conflict.
The ambassadors' recommendation will undergo a formal ratification process on December 21. Italy, backed by Luxembourg and some other EU members have spoken in favour of lifting the sanctions regime, which has also caused hundreds of millions worth of damage to EU producers after Russia introduced a retaliatory ban on food from the EU.
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November, France's calls for closer cooperation with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) also fuelled speculation that support for the prolongation of the sanctions could crumble.
But on December 16, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the parliament in Berlin that it was necessary to extend the sanctions to achieve implementation of an internationally agreed terms to end the conflict in East Ukraine.
"The sanctions should be extended. However, our main task is to achieve the implementation of the Minsk Agreements," Merkel told the Bundestag, referring the peace accords reached in February this year at talks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany, France and separatist leaders.