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EU agrees to extend Russia sanctions until mid-2017

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS 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 still not resolved and has killed nearly 10,000 people to date.

Poland was among the EU states that wanted a longer extension of the sanctions but Italy, a leading voice in the bloc, argued for seeking ways to reestablish 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 also endorsed additional Dutch demands over the bloc’s landmark agreement fostering closer ties with Ukraine in a bid to prevent the deal falling through.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ralph Boulton)