EU agrees to extend Russia economic sanctions

Brussels - EU leaders have agreed to extend damaging economic sanctions against Russia for another six months because Moscow has failed to meet its Ukraine ceasefire commitments, EU president Donald Tusk said.

"Agreed. EU will extend economic sanctions against Russia for their lack of implementing the Minsk agreement," Tusk tweeted at an EU leaders summit in Brussels.

The decision will be formalised in July and become effective on July 31, when the current measures are to expire.

The EU imposed the economic sanctions against Russia after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July 2014 with heavy loss of life, blamed by the EU on pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Up to that point, many European Union member states, especially France and Germany, had been reluctant to make a move that would cost them as well as Russia.

The decision, which was widely expected, came as newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefed their colleagues on Franco-German efforts to make the Minsk ceasefire agreement work.

"Macron and I talked about the state of play of the Minsk process. Unfortunately, we had to state that there is little progress", Merkel told reporters.

She said there had been "constant violations of the ceasefire".

Merkel added, however, that she had "got good support to continue the Minsk process" from the EU leaders.

The Minsk accord, backed by Moscow and Kiev, was first reached in late 2014 and then re-worked in early 2015 but has been breached almost daily.

The death toll in fighting between government forces and the rebels in eastern Ukraine has mounted steadily to above 10,000 since the conflict broke out following the ouster of a pro-Russian government in Kiev in early 2014.

The EU insists Russia must be held to account for its support of the rebels but Moscow says Brussels is at fault for aiding and abetting the overthrow of a legitimate government.

Earlier this week, the European Union formally rolled over for another year sanctions imposed over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which the bloc deems illegal.

The Crimea sanctions prohibit certain exports and imports, and ban investment and tourism services by EU-based companies there.

In addition to the economic and Crimea measures, the EU has also imposed asset freezes and travel bans on Ukraine and Russian figures held responsible for supporting the rebels.

These measures were extended in March for another six months and are again widely expected to be renewed in the absence of any progress in ending the war.

Moscow says all the EU sanctions, along with extensive US measures, are both ineffective and counterproductive.