European Union leaders are wrapping up the year with a summit that focuses on two key problems that have dogged the European Union for much of 2014: the crisis in Ukraine and the region's struggling economy. The meeting comes as the bloc agreed to new sanctions against Russian-annexed Crimea.
Thursday's agreement to toughen EU sanctions against Crimea came just hours before leaders gathered in Brussels for their last summit of the year. Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory in March.
The new EU measures will ban all investment and restrict trade in Crimea and even ban EU cruise ships from visiting Crimean ports.
They are just the latest in a series of punitive measures enacted by Europe and the United States this year over the crisis in Ukraine. Before the meeting, the new EU president, former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, said the summit should send a strong signal of Europe's support for Ukraine, including financial support.
"For sure, we will not find a long-term perspective, a long-term solution for Ukraine without adequate investment and consistent -- both tough and responsible -- strategy toward Russia," said Tusk. "For me, it is clear that a modern, stable and independent Ukraine would be, and must be a foundation for this new strategy."
Russia expert Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, said sanctions are only one element of a larger strategy needed to change the behavior of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
"The key question is today to take the sanction tool and craft it into a tool for policy. Because now, we have sanctions that are working, but we do not have a meaningful strategy behind them," said Liik.
She said that strategy should not only include ensuring Russia respects the Minsk cease-fire agreement with Ukraine, but deal more broadly with Russia's effort to carve out a sphere of influence at the expense of its neighbors.
Addressing Europe's economic woes is another top agenda item. Leaders are expected to agree on a $390-billion investment plan as one solution.
"The economic situation has improved since the outbreak of the [financial] crisis, but we are not safe, it is obvious. Today, we need more investments, more structural reforms and sound public finances across Europe," said Tusk.
The new investment plan was proposed by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and has broad support. It aims to generate private investment in infrastructure projects to revive regional growth and cut unemployment and public debt.