- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2018

Leaders from the European Union and Ukraine have gathered for a summit Monday to discuss Russia, the same day EU sanctions on Moscow have been extended because of the Kremlin’s annexation of the Crimea and continuing support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The summit in Brussels, which includes European Council President Donald Tusk, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, comes two days before a NATO summit in the same city — and a week before a July 16 summit in Helsinki between U.S. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The issue of sanctions against Russia hovers over all the talks.

Last week, EU officials extended through January 2019 economic sanctions on the Kremlin because of Crimea, in addition to Moscow’s continuing support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions target Russia’s defense, financial and energy interests and run parallel to Washington’s own sanctions targeting Moscow for the same reasons.

As anticipation builds over the upcoming Trump-Putin summit, analysts question how U.S. sanctions could evolve.

When asked last month about plans to drop U.S. opposition to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, Mr. Trump responded, “We’re going to have to see.”

Days later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said U.S. sanctions would remain until Moscow returns the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine.

Conflict there erupted in 2014 after months of mass street protests against Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych.

In February 2014, Mr. Yanukovych was deposed and days later armed men invaded Crimea and annexed it. Moscow also ramped up military and economic support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, in a war that has since killed more than 10,000 people.

That same year, in a disputed referendum, voters in Crimea — a peninsula that juts into the Black Sea — subsequently chose to join Russia.

Kremlin officials have consistently denied ever sending soldiers to Ukraine. They also maintains that Crimea rejoined Russia in a legal referendum that Ukrainian and Western powers simply fail to recognize.

During Monday’s summit, according to Radio Free Europe, EU and Ukrainian leaders discussed “Russian aggression” and issued a joint statement mentioning the war in eastern Ukraine.

In June, Russia’s envoy to the EU warned that extending the EU sanctions could jeopardize peace efforts, especially in Ukraine’s war-torn Donbass region.

“Let me say it straight about what effect this will have … negative,” Vladimir Chizhov said at the time, according to the state-run TASS news agency.

Last Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova added that extending the EU sanctions would scramble an opportunity for peace.

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