20th Oct 2016

Aleppo strikes prompt EU talk of new Russia sanctions

  • Blood on the ground after airstrikes hit market in Aleppo rebel enclave on Wednesday (12 October) (Photo: REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail)

EU diplomats are in talks on whether to expand sanctions on Russia and Syria over the bombardment of Aleppo, but there is unlikely to be a quick decision.

Ambassadors in the political and security committee are to meet in Brussels on Thursday (13 October) and Friday to discuss the bloc’s reaction to Russian airstrikes on an enclave of Western-backed rebels in the Syrian city, which inflicted hundreds of civilian casualties.

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The talks come ahead of a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next Monday that is set to condemn the bombing campaign.

They also come ahead of a strategic debate on EU-Russia relations at an EU summit later next week, which was requested by Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

The EU has already imposed visa bans and asset freezes on more than 200 Syrian officials and 70 entities.

It has sanctioned some 150 Russians and Ukrainians over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and imposed economic sanctions on Russian banks, oil firms, and arms makers.

An EU source told EUobserver on Thursday that some states had proposed adding a handful of Russian names to the Syria blacklist.

But he said the EU is unlikely to take the step until the outcome of new Syria peace talks, due to start in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 15 October, becomes clear.

He also said the EU might wait to see the result of a meeting by French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders on Ukraine, expected in Berlin on 19 October.

“It’s too early to say how it will develop, but some member states might be willing to put Russia into the context of all this [the EU’s reaction to events in Aleppo]”, he said.

He added that Syria was "very much helping us to maintain sanctions engagement” in terms of the EU’s Ukraine-related blacklists and economic measures.

The Reuters news agency reported on Thursday that Britain and France were leading the EU talks on Syria, with proposals to add 12 Russian names to the Syria list.

French president Francois Hollande snubbed Russian leader Vladimir Putin earlier this week by downgrading a state visit to Paris to a “working meeting” on Syria, prompting Putin to cancel the trip.

UK foreign minister Boris Johnson told MPs that anti-war NGOs should picket the Russian embassy in London.

Senior German MEPs and MPs from chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, such as Elmar Brok and Norbert Roettgen, have also called for additional measures against Russia.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, told the Wall Street Journal, a US newspaper, on Wednesday: “I’m quite concerned and disappointed that Russia-EU relations are becoming hostage to yet another crisis - not only the Ukrainian crisis but also the Syrian one”.

“Any hostile act against Russia will not remain without an adequate reaction, the substance of which I don’t want to prejudge”, he said.

Putin also hit back at Western criticism.

“Any accusations against Russia for being allegedly responsible for the problem of refugees, are absolutely unjustified,” he told French broadcaster TFI 1 in an interview aired on Wednesday.

“I’m deeply convinced that it's our Western partners, and especially the United States, that are responsible for the situation in the region in general and Syria in particular.”

The US has also been implicated in civilian deaths from airstrikes in Syria and in other theatres, such as Afghanistan.

Josh Kirby, the state department spokesman, said on Wednesday that there was a difference between its actions and those of Russia.

“The difference is when we cause them [civilian deaths], it’s unintentional or there was a mistake involved. It’s not a deliberate attempt to put innocent civilians in harm’s way,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in and around Aleppo specifically with respect to the Syrian regime and Russian military aircraft is a wanton disregard for the safety and security of civilians and an indiscriminate approach to the bombing, which is absolutely not at all in concert with the way we conduct our military air operations.”

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