NEWS

EU said to extend Russia sanctions amid elusive peace in Ukraine

European Union governments struck a preliminary accord to extend sanctions against Russia by six months to the end of January, to keep up the pressure on the Kremlin to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

Representatives of the 28 governments agreed on Wednesday in Brussels to prolong the trade and investment curbs, two EU officials said on condition of anonymity under EU media rules. Final confirmation of the move is due June 22, they said.

The behind-the-scenes decision marks a victory for EU President Donald Tusk, a leader of the hardline camp since his time as Poland’s prime minister, and avoids a showdown over Russia policy at an EU leaders’ summit next week.

The European restrictions bar financing for major Russian banks, ban the export of sophisticated energy-exploration equipment, and prohibit the sale of weapons and some civilian goods with military uses.

Those curbs were set to lapse in late July. A separate blacklist imposes asset freezes and travel bans on 151 people, companies and organizations accused of destabilizing Ukraine. It runs until Sept. 15.

Foes of sanctions — led by Greece, but including countries such as Austria and Hungary — were neutralized by Tusk’s move to ram the decision through the permanent Brussels-based bureaucracy.

The new Greek government has courted Russian President Vladimir Putin, both as a financier of Greece’s depressed economy and to gain leverage over European creditors in its quest for more bailout funds.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets Putin in St. Petersburg on Thursday, spurring speculation that Greece would veto an extension in exchange for Russian largesse. EU sanctions require a unanimous vote by the 28 governments, and opponents will have one more chance to block them before the decision becomes final.

EU leaders in March made a political declaration to align the sanctions with the end-of-year deadline for full enforcement of a February cease-fire between pro-Kremlin separatists and Ukraine government forces.

Sporadic fighting intensified this month along the line of contact between Ukrainian and rebel troops, putting the cease- fire in jeopardy. [Bloomberg]