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Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 3, 2015. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

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By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union on Friday extended its economic sanctions on Russia until the end of January next year in a widely expected decision after EU leaders called for more progress in bringing peace to eastern Ukraine.

"Having assessed the implementation of the Minsk agreements, the Council decided to renew the sanctions for a further six months, until 31 January 2017," the Council of European governments said, referring to the Minsk peace deal signed last year.

The EU and the United States imposed sanctions on Russia's defence, energy and financial sectors in July 2014 over Moscow's support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Moscow imposed a ban on EU farm exports in retaliation, and denies any direct backing for the rebels.

The EU is divided over how to end the stand-off with Moscow, with some countries such as Slovakia saying the current sanctions policy is untenable.

However Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania's President, tweeted, "what goes around, comes around. Sanctions continue until Minsk Agreements are fully implemented."

The war has killed more than 9,000 people since April 2014 and NATO warned last week the internationally monitored ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was barely holding.

(Writing by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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