European Union envoys decided to keep in place several rounds of sanctions the bloc imposed on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and what the West says is Moscow’s direct support of separatists in the country’s east.
“We are keeping the status quo,” one official said after EU ambassadors, meeting Tuesday in Brussels, reviewed the implementation of a cease-fire agreement signed between Kyiv and the separatists earlier this month.
Officials did note “encouraging developments… in the political process and in the implementation of some aspects of the Minsk Protocol,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said, but added that a permanent cease-fire was needed.
The truce, although holding in general, has been broken numerous times since it was signed September 5 in Minsk, Belarus, with Ukrainian forces suffering their heaviest losses in one day last Sunday, when a rebel shell hit an armored personnel carrier, killing seven soldiers, a military spokesman said.
The EU has pledged to periodically review sanctions, adjusting them to developments on the ground.
Moscow has consistently denied it is supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine, despite what Kyiv and the West say is irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the sanctions undermine the "peace process" in eastern Ukraine.
Gas deal between Moscow, Kyiv?
Russia said on Tuesday it hoped to reach a deal with Ukraine this week on renewed natural gas supplies but insisted that Kyiv first pay off some of its existing energy debt.
“It is a matter of principle for us that part of the debt should be redeemed before the [gas] supply starts,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told reporters while traveling with President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan.
Russia halted gas supplies to Ukraine in June because of the debt dispute.
The sides seem to have reached agreement in principle on the amount to be paid by Kyiv – $3.1 before the end of the year, but differences remain over the break-down of the payments and over when gas flows would resume.
Novak said he hoped the differences “will be removed this week.”
Moscow and Kyiv reaching agreement on the issue is significant also for Europe, which receives about a third of its gas from Russia, with some 40 percent of it being pumped through Ukrainian pipelines.
The absence of a deal could result in energy shortages this winter both in Ukraine and Europe.
Some materials for this report came from Reuters.