Reuters International

European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is due to extend its economic sanctions on Russia over the conflict in Ukraine for six months next week, diplomatic sources said, though this stance could be softened later on.

The EU imposed sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed Crimea from Kiev in March 2014 and stepped them up later that year as the Kremlin backed rebels fighting Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine. More than 9,000 people have been killed.

The bloc's energy, financial and defence sanctions expire in July and the 28-strong EU is seen extending them this time around before having a review of its stance vis-à-vis Russia later in the second half of the year.

Diplomatic sources said EU envoys to Brussels were due to discuss rolling the sanctions over on June 21 and the bloc's ministers would approve their decision when they meet on June 24.

"It will be a roll-over," one diplomat said. "But there is a growing feeling that something needs to be done in the second half of the year."

The EU has linked sanctions relief to the full implementation of a peace plan for eastern Ukraine, which has been all but stalled for months as Kiev and Moscow trade blame for failing to deliver on their commitments.

But the head of the EU's executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin when he travels to an economic forum in Russia on June 28-29 - just one of several high-level diplomatic contacts between the West and the Kremlin after a period of relative isolation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the bloc's leading power, last week said that the sanctions were not an end in themselves, adding that fulfilling the so-called Minsk peace agreement was key to getting them lifted.

Italy and Greece are among EU states that have long argued for softening of the sanctions on Russia, a key trade partner and energy supplier for the bloc.

In the east of the EU, the formerly communist Baltic states and Poland are more wary of Russia and say the restrictions should stay in place.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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