BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Monday shied away from slapping new economic sanctions on Russia right away over its actions in eastern Ukraine. Instead, the 28-nation bloc said the punitive measures will come into force "in the next few days" depending on how well the cease-fire agreement in eastern Ukraine will be upheld.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement delaying the sanctions would leave time for "an assessment of the implementation of the cease-fire agreement and the peace plan."
"Depending on the situation on the ground, the EU stands ready to review the agreed sanctions in whole or in part," Van Rompuy said.
Ukraine, Russia and the Kremlin-backed separatists agreed Friday to an immediate cease-fire and an exchange of prisoners. While the truce appeared to hold on Monday, the agreement seemed fragile over the weekend when occasional fighting occurred.
The EU sanctions are expected to be coordinated with a new round of U.S. sanctions, a Western diplomat said. The U.S. sanctions are ready for release, the diplomat said, but the Obama administration wants to wait to act in concert with Europe in order to maximize the impact of the sanctions and present a united front against Russia.
President Barack Obama and some European leaders have said that given their skepticism about the cease-fire, it was imperative to press forward with sanctions now. But they have said the penalties could be lifted if tensions between Ukraine and Russia ease.
The new round of Western sanctions are expected to deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia's energy and arms sectors. The penalties are also expected to tighten access to international loans, with the current ban on credits and loans of more than 90 days reduced to 30 days.
More individuals, including Russian government officials and people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are also expected to be sanctioned, according to the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details of the sanctions before they were formally announced.
A summit of EU leaders about 10 days ago called for the new sanctions to be finalized, but action was first delayed late last week as the cease-fire took shape. Earlier Monday, EU officials still insisted the sanctions would be decided by day's end and take effect Tuesday. But another emergency meeting of the 28 nation's ambassadors in Brussels then opted for another delay. Decisions on sanctions in the EU require unanimity.
Brussels has been more reluctant than Washington to sanction Russia because of its broad economic ties. Moscow is an important gas supplier for many EU nations and it is the bloc's third-largest trading partner overall. The EU's sanctions, however, have more impact than those imposed by the U.S. since the EU is Russia's largest trading partner by far.
Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz