EU sanctions against Russian figures

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BRUSSELS (APP) - The EU has rolled over asset freeze and travel ban sanctions against nearly 150 people in Ukraine and Russia for supporting pro-Moscow rebels, European Union sources said Thursday.

Ambassadors from the 28 EU member states approved extending the sanctions -- which target 146 individuals and 37 entities including companies and militia groups -- by six months to March 15, the sources said.

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"They were adopted without discussion," one of the sources told on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss it on the record, with no changes made to the names on the blacklist.

The EU has imposed a series of punitive measures since Moscow annexed Crimea and the Ukraine crisis morphed into a bloody war in the east in 2014.

The first sanctions comprised the asset freeze and travel bans targeting individuals, some of them close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin regularly blasts the sanctions as both ineffective and counter-productive to implementing the Minsk peace accords he agreed with France, Germany and Ukraine in the Belarus capital in late 2014.

In July, the EU extended for another six months to January 2017 much more damaging economic sanctions targeting whole sectors of the Russian economy, charging that Russia was not living up to its Minsk commitments.

These sanctions, imposed in July 2014 after the pro-Moscow rebels were blamed for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, target Russia's key oil, defence and financial sectors.

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A third set of sanctions, imposed against individuals and companies said to have aided Russia's annexation of Crimea, were rolled over for a year in June.

The EU measures have been controversial from the start, with some member states such as Germany, Italy and Hungary reluctant to get locked into a stand-off with Russia, a major political and economic partner.

Others, such as Britain, have taken a harder line, insisting that Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its 2014 annexation of Crimea breach international law and cannot go unpunished.

Against this backdrop and a growing sense of frustration at the impasse in Ukraine, EU diplomatic sources say EU leaders will review the broader economic sanctions in October but a final decision will likely wait until December.