EU sanctions against Russia’s backing of the seperatist rebels in eastern Ukraine were prolonged another six months on Monday, the European Council said in a statement.
The sanctions imposed aim at freezing assets and continuing travel bans until March 2016, and the list includes prominent figures such as Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, military intelligence chief Igor Sergun and Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov.
“The assessment of the situation did not justify a change in the regime of sanctions nor in the list of persons and entities under restrictive measures,” the council said.
The sanctions were first enforced in March 2014 in response to the annexation of Crimea and the “deliberate destabilization” of Ukraine by Russia.
Since then, the sanctions have been continuously extended to bolster the Minsk cease-fire agreement signed in February in the Belarusian capital between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists.
Nonetheless, the agreement is regularly breached, according to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors.
Almost 8,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, the UN Human Rights agency said in a statement released last week.
The dead include Ukrainian soldiers, pro-Russian separatist rebels and civilians who have been caught up in the fighting, with civilian casualties showing an increase in the past three months.
At least 17,811 people have also been injured in the clashes, according to the report.
Fighting broke out in Ukraine’s eastern provinces after the country’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled anti-government protests in Kiev in February 2014.
Protesters had been clashing with police in Kiev’s Euromaidan Square for three months, concerned with Yanukovych pivoting the country towards Russia after rejecting financial help from the EU.
Despite the Minsk 2 ceasefire sporadic clashes have been intensifying particularly around the strategically located coastal city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.
Control of the road to Mariupol would not only grant the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk access to the sea, but would allow the rebels to form a land bridge linking them to the Crimean peninsula.
Both the rebels and the Kiev forces have been accused of violating the ceasefire. While the report claims foreign fighters, weapons and ammunition from Russia are fueling the conflict, it also slammed the Ukrainian government for the “arbitrary and incommunicado detention” of rebels who face torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities.