BRUSSELS European Union governments reached a preliminary agreement on Wednesday to expand the legal criteria for targeting people and companies with sanctions to pressure Russia over Ukraine, paving the way for new listings as early as Monday, diplomats said.
The decision should make it easier for the EU to target Russian companies - something it hasn't done yet, unlike the United States - but needs formal backing during a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday.
"We have political approval, and it will have to be rubber-stamped," one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "New sanctions are likely on Monday."
Two other diplomats also said senior EU officials were due to discuss specific names of potential targets later on Wednesday.
The EU has already imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 48 Russians and Ukrainians over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
It was not immediately clear what the new criteria would be and whether they would allow for targeting of Russian energy giants such as Gazprom or Rosneft.
Previously, the EU targeted people it thought were directly responsible for endangering the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
But several EU governments, led by Poland and Britain, pushed to have this definition expanded significantly, possibly to include those supporting the government in Moscow, which would open the way to targeting Russian oligarchs.
Others were reluctant, however, arguing that the bloc should be careful not to cast its net of sanctions too wide and hurt its own economy in the process.
The EU is also anxious to have a sound legal basis for its Russia sanctions to avoid legal challenges as has occurred in the past with sanctions on Iran.
Earlier on Wednesday, Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, threatened Russia with more sanctions.
"We call on Russia to refrain from any steps to further destabilize Ukraine and instead to engage in a diplomatic resolution of the crisis," said van Rompuy, who represents the EU's 28 national governments.
"Further steps in destabilizing Ukraine will call for additional sanctions," he said.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Adrian Croft)