EU leaders set to extend Russia sanctions at summit

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini delivering a speech in Berlin, Germany on Dec 12, 2015.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini delivering a speech in Berlin, Germany on Dec 12, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

BRUSSELS (AFP) - EU leaders will debate sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict at a summit this week and are expected to extend them for another six months, officials said on Monday.

Italy has called for a disussion when the leaders of the 28-nation bloc meet on Thursday and Friday, meaning that the sanctions rollover did not happen as planned at a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels last week.

The EU imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions targeting Russia's banking, oil and defence sectors after the July 2014 shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet, widely blamed on pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"I understand this will be for the European Council later this week as it has always been when it comes to sanctions on Russia," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters at a meeting of foreign ministers.

"I don't see major problems in any of the member states on the political decisions" on extending sanctions.

While the European Council - which groups the EU's leaders - always has to sign off on sanctions decisions, a preliminary decision is often taken at ambassadorial or ministerial level beforehand.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said he did "not forsee a long discussion" on sanctions at the summit.

Italy, one of Russia's principal trading partners in Europe, said last week it wants to keep communication channels with Moscow open despite the Ukrainian crisis.

There have long been divisions in the EU over the economic sanctions, which have resurfaced in recent months as Brussels and Washington try to get Russia on board to end the Syrian war.

It has also imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russian and Ukrainian individuals held responsible for backing the pro-Moscow rebels, as well as sanctions targeting those involved in Moscow's annexation of Crimea.