Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash 90
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (archive photo)

The European Union voted to extend its economic sanctions against Russia for another six months, the EU news officer for foreign affairs, Susanne Kiefer, told international news media Monday.

The sanctions are being maintained until January 31, 2016, “with a view to complete implementation of Minsk agreement,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Switzerland is not formally a part of the European Union but is expected to follow its lead on the sanctions against Russia, according to the Russian RT.com news website.

Foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg decided on sanctions that were originally imposed in response to Russia’s seizure of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and its military support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The sanctions include restrictions on lending to major Russian government-owned banks as well as defense and oil firms.

In addition, the EU imposed restrictions on the supply of weapons and military equipment to Russia as well as military technology, dual-use technologies, high-tech equipment and technologies for oil production.

No sanctions have been imposed against Russia’s natural gas industry, however.

In response, Russian presidential spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that although “It wasn’t Russia who began the restrictive measures in the first place, the Kremlin would answer in kind.

“The policy of sanctions harms not only business activity in Russia but European taxpayers as well,” Peskov said.

Ethnic Russian residents of Ukraine and those who speak Ukrainian have long struggled between themselves over the future of the country. One side wants closer ties with the European Union; the other hopes to return the country to something resembling its former status as a past Soviet satellite.

An internal civil war erupted when pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych, decided not to sign an agreement for closer relations with the EU, leading to nationwide protests. He was ousted from his post in February 2014 and succeeded by President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected on May 25, 2014.

In the interim a savage civil war broke out as well – and has continued – with an all-out battle taking place between East and West, not only in Ukraine but elsewhere in other former Soviet republics as well.

The Minsk agreement – “Minsk II” — was cobbled together in Minsk by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on February 11 after the collapse of the Minsk Protocol ceasefire of Sept. 5, 2014.

The new deal called for an “immediate and full ceasefire in particular districts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts of Ukraine” effective 15 February 2015. Other elements of the agreement include a pullout of heavy weapons on both sides to create a security buffer zone of 50 kilometers (31 miles) for 100mm-plus artillery, a 70-kilometer (43 mile) buffer zone for multiple rocket launchers (MRLS), and 140 kilometers (87 miles) for various MLRS tactical missile systems.

On the first day after the pullout a dialogue was to start on modalities of conducting local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine on “temporary order of local self-governance in particular districts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts” – and also on the future of these districts.

There were other elements as well. Nevertheless, the agreement has yet to be implemented fully: Separatist leader Dmytro Yarosh announced he reserved the right to continue fighting, calling Minsk II “unconstitutional.” His Ukrainian Volunteer Corps would fight “until complete liberation of Ukrainian lands from Russian occupants,” he said.

Meanwhile, DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko said the ceasefire did not apply to Debaltseve, where Russian Armed Forces were said by the U.S. to have actively deployed to assist separatists with forcing out Ukrainian troops. Zakharchenko vowed to continue fighting at Debaltseve.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.