The European Union has decided to sanction eight Russian nationals for their responsibility in incidents in the Sea of Azov last November, several European sources told French Press Agency (AFP).
EU foreign ministers will discuss Monday further the bloc's support for Ukraine, especially the south-eastern regions most affected by the conflict. Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Kiev in 2014 and backed separatist rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk industrial regions.
Last November, the Russian navy captured 24 Ukrainian sailors and their vessels in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black and Azov seas. Moscow has not heeded EU calls to release them.
The bloc's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed in Brussels on Friday "the issue of restrictive measures as a consequence of the incidents in the Azov Sea," a senior EU official said, indicating the EU was coordinating with Washington.
These are "targeted and individual sanctions," an EU diplomat said, with the eight blacklist targets to be banned from entering the EU and their assets frozen.
"There was a unanimous decision to sanction those responsible," another source said.
Legal proceedings will then be launched and the names of those on the blacklist will remain sealed until the decision is published in the coming weeks.
The Azov Sea standoff was seen as an open violation of the EU-brokered Minsk peace agreement, which was endorsed by both Moscow and Kiev in late 2014, but is violated regularly.
Currently 164 Russians and Ukrainians, including personalities close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, have been placed on the EU sanctions list since Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
But EU member states remain divided on whether to strengthen measures by specifically targeting trade ties with Russia, a source said.
In particular, Europeans refrain from involving key figures of the energy sector because of the heavy dependence of several EU countries — including powerful Germany — on gas purchased from Russia.