EU economic sanctions on Russia are set to stay in place through January after the bloc's ambassadors agreed Tuesday to an extension, with a formal decision expected soon, diplomats told dpa on condition of anonymity.
The European Union has imposed restrictive measures on Moscow in response to its annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and its alleged support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The ambassadors' decision relates to the toughest of sanctions imposed by the bloc on Moscow. They hamper Russian imports into the EU and Russian banks' access to European markets.
The move was initially due to be finalized on Friday, but Italy asked for the formal decision to be postponed until after a summit of EU leaders next week, diplomatic sources said.
Italy, as well as France, has called for the decision on sanctions to be accompanied by a review of progress in applying a ceasefire deal in eastern Ukraine. The restrictive measures have been linked to the full implementation of the deal, signed last year in Minsk.
French President Francois Hollande, who met with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Paris on Tuesday, said after the meeting that the sanctions had initially been prolonged in order to push for the implementation of the Minsk peace deal.
He added that when the deal "is fully engaged, there can be a progressive lifting of sanctions."
Poroshenko said the sanctions against Russia were the only way to achieve peace in eastern Ukraine because they could pressure Russia to withdraw its troops from the region and respect international law.
Moscow has denied charges that it is fuelling the conflict with supplies of weapons and troops for the separatists.
"The only instrument that remains is sanctions; sanctions to obligate Russia to come to the negotiating table so that it leaves Ukrainian territory, so that Russia accepts the withdrawal of its troops ... there is no alternative to that," Poroshenko said in an interview with French broadcaster iTele.
Without an extension, the sanctions will expire at the end of July.
All 28 ambassadors had agreed in principle to the extension, but France and Britain said they want to first consult with their national parliaments before giving the final go-ahead, EU diplomats said.
The sanctions have severely strained relations between Brussels and Moscow, and have proved controversial because they have inflicted economic pain both on Russia and the EU.