EU leaders to support extending Russia economic sanctions, sources say

FILE PHOTO: A billboard with a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin is displayed on a street in Kerch, Crimea, April 7, 2016. The board reads: "Crimea. Russia. Forever." REUTERS/Andrew Osborn/File Photo

WARSAW/BERLIN (Reuters) - European Union leaders are expected on Friday to back extending the bloc’s main economic sanctions against Russia over the turmoil in Ukraine until the end of January 2021, diplomatic sources and officials said.

The EU hit Russia’s energy, financial and arms sectors after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and went on to back rebels fighting Kyiv government troops in the east of the ex-Soviet republic.

It has rolled them over ever since as Moscow has vowed to never give back the Black Sea peninsula.

The curbs are now in place until the end of July, and the 27 national EU leaders holding a virtual meeting on Friday are expected to pave the way for another six-month extension, which would be formalised later this month, the sources said.

Separately on Thursday, the EU prolonged its ban on doing business with the annexed Crimea until mid-2021. A third batch of EU sanctions blacklists people and firms the bloc sees as instrumental in spreading havoc in the former Russian satellite.

While some countries including Italy and Hungary would want to see a revival of economic ties with Russia, the bloc’s dovish wing has not had the upper hand recently as the EU was unnerved by what it has seen as Moscow’s disinformation over coronavirus.

Moscow last month denied hacking the German parliament and, on Thursday, German federal prosecutors accused Russia of ordering a killing in Berlin last summer, allegations that further weigh on plan by EU leaders including European Council President Charles Michel for cautious re-engagement with Moscow.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also recently called for Russia to be allowed back into the G7 club of leading economies, a seat Moscow lost over the conflict in Ukraine.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Andreas Rinke, Michael Nienaber, Editing by William Maclean