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German Foreign Minister Steinmeier says extending Russia sanctions more difficult

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny

VILNIUS (Reuters) - An agreement on renewing sanctions against Russia when they run out on July 31 has become more difficult with growing opposition from some EU countries, Germany’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

European Union economic sanctions against Russia were introduced for one year in July 2014 in response to its actions in Ukraine and twice extended in 2015.

“We are aware that resistance in the EU to extending the sanctions towards Russia has increased,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted by Lithuania’s BNS news agency saying in an interview.

“It will be more difficult than it was last year to find a common position on this issue.”

Germany wants to keep the sanctions until the Minsk peace accords between Russia and Ukraine are implemented, Steinmeier said.

“One thing is for sure. We cannot ignore Russia’s annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine,” he said.

The 28-strong EU needs unanimity to keep the sanctions in place and the bloc’s unity has been increasingly tested on that.

Last week diplomats and officials told Reuters the EU was still on track to renew them, though an extension could be contested and only short-term.

Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary and Bulgaria are among EU states sceptical that sanctions should be extended, diplomats said, facing off against Britain, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states.

Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Mark John