EU approves Russian sanctions 'within days'

BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union agreed to a new wave of sanctions against Russia on Monday, but said their entry into force would take a few days, giving time to recent peace moves by Moscow.

"Depending on the situation on the ground, the EU stands ready to review the agreed sanctions in whole or in part," said Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council in a statement, after a last-minute meeting of EU envoys in Brussels.

European capitals were supposed to give formal approval early on Monday to the sanctions - which include limiting access to financial markets by Russian oil giants - but had failed to do so after falling short of an unanimous agreement on the measures.

The delay came as some of the EU's member states in eastern Europe - still dependent on Russian trade and energy ties - were uneasy at rachetting up the sanctions, and as a tenuous Ukraine ceasefire appeared to be holding. But after more than three hours of last-minute talks, a breakthrough was achieved.

"A package of further restrictive measures against Russia has been adopted by the Council today (through written procedure), deepening the targeted measures of 31 July," Van Rompuy said.

As is practice with EU sanctions, the decision and exact content of the measures will only be revealed once they are published in the official journal, a process that can take several days. "This will leave time for an assessment of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace plan," Von Rompuy said.

When EU officials agreed the new sanctions package Friday, Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso had left open the possibility they could be lifted quickly if the ceasefire held, setting the stage for further peace efforts.

Diplomatic sources said the differences apparently revolved around this point, with some member states, including Russia-neighbour Finland, seeking to incorporate language in the sanctions text that would keep options open for lifting the sanctions.

Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubbe admitted as much in a tweet that indicated that last-minute negotiations had been arduous.

"What a day. Things never turn out as you plan. Got things sorted after umpteen phone calls around Europe," Stubbe said on Twitter, before the compromise had been officially reported.

European leaders ordered Brussels officials at a summit on August 30 to draw up new sanctions within a week in response to claims that Russian troops were backing rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Diplomats said the new EU sanctions limit access to financial markets by Russian oil companies such as Rosneft and Transneft plus the petroleum unit of gas giant Gazprom.

The new sanctions build on those agreed at the end of July when EU leaders, stung into action by the shooting down over Ukraine of a Malaysia Airlines plane, decided to target whole economic sectors on top of travel bans and asset freezes against individuals.

Crucially, the July sanctions meant Russian entities would no longer be able to raise debt on EU financial markets with a maturity of more than 90 days. It is widely expected this could now be cut to as little as 30 days in the new measures, tightening the screws on state-owned Russian banks at a time when the economy is already struggling. That could force the Russian government "to put its hand in its pocket", to make up the funding shortfall, another diplomatic source said.

The new measures will also target more people linked to the rebel leadership in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, the government of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March, and Russian "decision-makers and oligarchs", Van Rompuy and Barroso said on Friday.

They cover the same four areas as the previous set in July - capital markets, defence, dual-use goods with both military and civilian capabilities, and oil technology, they added.

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