EU leaders agree to roll over Russia sanctions: Donald Tusk

European Council President Donald Tusk answers the press on the first day of a European council meeting in Brussels, on Dec 14, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (AFP) - EU leaders on Thursday (Dec 14) agreed to extend tough economic sanctions against Russia over its meddling in Ukraine for six months, EU President Donald Tusk said.

"EU united on roll-over of economic sanctions on Russia," Tusk tweeted after leaders discussed the issue at a summit in Brussels.

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 which saw the launch of a major new EU defence cooperation agreement.

Tusk called the agreement, inaugurated by EU leaders flanked by soldiers in combat uniforms, "bad news for our enemies".

The decision to roll sanctions over came after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefed the other EU leaders on the state of the Minsk accord.

Merkel told reporters afterwards the leaders had 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.

The EU-brokered Minsk peace agreement, backed by Moscow and Kiev, was first reached in late 2014 and then re-worked in early 2015 but is violated almost daily.

"3.5 years of economic sanctions on Russia. And more to come because lack of implementation of Minsk Agreements," Tusk's spokesman Preben Aamann wrote on Twitter.

Before the downing of MH17, which a Dutch-led investigation said was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, many EU states, especially France and Germany, had been reluctant to make a move which would cost them as well as Russia.

The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed more than 10,000 lives and rumbles on despite a series of periodic truce deals.

The EU also has sanctions in force against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Thursday's sanctions extension will be given formal legal approval in the coming weeks.

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