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EU Extends Sanctions on Russia

  • Luis Ramirez

French President Francois Hollande, second from left, speaks with the mayor of Aleppo, Brita Hagi Hasan, left, and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, second from right, during a meeting at an EU Summit in Brussels, Dec. 15, 2016. European Union leaders met to discuss defense, migration, the conflict in Syria and Britain's plans to leave the bloc.

European Union leaders meeting Thursday in Brussels agreed to extend sanctions on Russia for another six months, EU officials said.

The one-day summit, which ran late into the evening, capped a turbulent year for the 28-member group as questions loom over the integrity and future of the organization.

The decision to extend sanctions on Russia came as no surprise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said this week that they would support extending sanctions in light of Russia's failure to abide by the Minsk agreements on Ukraine.

The decision, to be announced officially in the next few days, came despite growing pressure among investors and energy interests in Europe, including within Germany itself, for sanctions to be rolled back.

Analysts said the poor momentum for continued actions to punish Russia had been spurred on by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's stated willingness to work more closely with Russia to resolve conflicts and combat terrorism.

Analysts had said the EU would be unlikely to announce any new sanctions against Moscow over Syria, but EU leaders Thursday strongly condemned the Syrian government's Russian-backed assault on parts of Aleppo and called for a halt to the violence.

"I have been talking constantly to Russia, and Russia makes commitments that it is not keeping. Now it is time for us to conclude a cease-fire," Hollande told reporters.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves an EU summit in Brussels, Dec. 15, 2016.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves an EU summit in Brussels, Dec. 15, 2016.

British exit

Among the top challenges looming over the gathering in Brussels was Britain's decision last June to leave the EU.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was not invited to attend a dinner late Thursday, where an informal discussion on Brexit was on the agenda.

May's exclusion from the dinner was one of the first visible signs of the reality that Britain, the EU's second-largest economy, will soon no longer be a part of the bloc. In a statement, May's spokesman downplayed what some observers interpreted as a slight against the British leader.

"The fact there is a meeting of the 27 reflects that we are leaving the European Union and, as we embark on that process, we have been very clear that while the U.K. needs to prepare for the negotiations, so, too, do the EU 27. Obviously, a meeting in that format on Thursday evening will give them an opportunity to discuss their approach," the spokesman said.

A contentious issue at this meeting was the Netherlands' stance on Ukraine.

Dutch voters in April turned down an agreement between the EU and Ukraine to strengthen political and economic ties between Brussels and Kyiv, a deal that many interpret as a first step toward EU membership.

EU leaders approved a statement reassuring Dutch voters that the deal would not lead to EU membership for Ukraine.

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