BRUSSELS • European Union leaders have agreed to extend for six months tough economic sanctions against Russia over its meddling in Ukraine, EU President Donald Tusk said.
"EU united on rollover of economic sanctions on Russia," he tweeted after leaders discussed the issue at a summit in Brussels on Thursday.
The EU imposed the economic sanctions against Russia after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in July 2014 was shot down over Ukraine, killing 298 people, an attack blamed by the EU on pro-Russian rebels.
The decision to extend the measures, which was widely expected, came at a summit in Brussels that saw the launch of a major new EU defence cooperation agreement.
Moscow said yesterday it "regrets" the decision. "As always, we regret this. We do not consider such decisions beneficial to either EU member states or the Russian Federation. As before, Russia considers these sanctions illegal and unjust," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
"Despite this, we of course are still set on improving relations with Brussels, which currently leave something to be desired," he said.
The decision to roll over sanctions came after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefed the other EU leaders on the state of the Minsk accord.
The EU-brokered Minsk peace agreement, backed by Moscow and Kiev, was first reached in late 2014 and then reworked in early 2015, but is violated almost daily.
Dr Merkel told reporters after Thursday's meeting that the leaders had an "intense discussion" on sanctions. "There is not enough progress in order to end the sanctions - there was general support for doing anything to push the Minsk process forward," she said.
Before the downing of MH17, which a Dutch-led investigation said was hit by a Russia-made surface-to-air missile, many EU states, especially France and Germany, had been reluctant to make a move that would cost them as well as Russia.
The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed over 10,000 lives and rumbles on despite a series of periodic truce deals.