BRUSSELS, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The European Union extended sanctions against Russia for an additional six months, continuing a major economic slowdown in the country.
Despite growing disagreements over how long to punish Russia for annexing Crimea and stirring separatism in Ukraine, the bloc's 28 member nations agreed to continue the sanctions, effective Tuesday.
The sanctions were first imposed in March 2014 after the Crimean annexation and were widened in response to allegations Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The sanctions could be lifted if Russia complies with the terms of a cease-fire deal reached in Belarus -- withdraw its military, hand control of Ukraine's border area with Russia back to Kiev and allow access to international observers -- but so far they have not.
"The sanctions are very important in keeping Russia on track and narrowing their space of maneuver in Eastern Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters in Brussels.
What could happen after this six-month extension runs out in July is unknown, because of the turmoil of 2015: Greece nearly left the Euro zone in July, a refugee crisis forced multiple countries to wrestle with what they stand for and November's terror attacks in Paris all challenge Europe's lasting unity on the sanctions.