European Union leaders have decided to maintain economic sanctions on Russia until the end of the year.
Donald Tusk
© AP/Scanpix

In a joint statement released on Thursday in Brussels, they said the “restrictive measures against the Russian Federation… should be clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by 31 December 2015”.

EU leaders noted that “necessary decisions” - the legal acts needed to extend the sanctions regime - “will be taken in the coming months”.

“The European Council stands ready to take further measures if necessary,” they added.

The sanctions prohibit purchase of long-term bonds from leading Russian banks, energy, and arms firms. They also forbid exports of high-end technology for oil and gas exploration.

The sanctions were imposed last July for one year and must be renewed by EU consensus before they expire.

EU governments were divided on whether to act now to renew economic sanctions on Russia or to wait several months before taking a decision to see if the Ukraine ceasefire holds.

EU leaders backed a compromise hammered out by European Council President Donald Tusk together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, two of the architects of the Ukraine peace plan reached in Minsk last month.

Leaders "agreed that the duration of economic sanctions will be clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements, bearing in mind that this is only foreseen by the end of 2015", Tusk told a news conference.

EU leaders were also "ready to take further decisions if necessary", he said, in a clear threat of additional sanctions.

A formal, legal decision on whether to extend sanctions on Russia's financial, defense and energy sectors that expire in July will only be taken at the next EU summit in June.

But the link to the Ukraine peace agreement effectively extends economic sanctions until the end of the year because the Minsk accord sets a year-end deadline for Kiev to recover full control over its border.

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