European Union extends Russia sanctions until Jan 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin walks before delivering a speech to children during his visit to the Artek children's holiday camp outside the seaside town of Gurzuf, Crimea, June 24, 2017. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union formally extended its economic sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, a widely expected step that keeps restrictions on business with Russian energy, defense and financial sectors until Jan. 31, 2018.

The sanctions were imposed in July 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula and Moscow’s direct support for separatists in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies direct involvement in the conflict despite NATO’s assertions its troops are supporting the rebels.

EU leaders agreed to the extension at their summit in Brussels last week, after France and Germany cited no progress in efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.

Under the sanctions that were imposed in tandem with the United States, European companies are banned from doing business with or investing in Russia’s defense and energy industries, while financial ties are severely limited.

European companies cannot borrow or lend money to Russia’s five main state-owned banks for more than 30 days, limiting Moscow’s avenues for raising funds. Along with restrictions on business with Russia’s top energy companies, exports of some energy-related equipment and technology to Russia must also be approved by EU governments.

Any lifting of sanctions on Russia is tied to the implementation of the Minsk peace deal for Ukraine which was negotiated by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in 2015.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Potter