Monday

23rd Jan 2017

EU and US mull new economic sanctions on Russia

  • Kerry (r) and Johnson in London (Photo: state.gov)

The US and the UK have said Russia might face new economic sanctions over its actions in Syria, with France and Germany also indicating they are willing to take a tough line.

US secretary of state John Kerry and his British counterpart Boris Johnson issued the threat at a press briefing in London on Sunday (16 October).

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  • Aleppo: Putin flattened the Chechen capital, Grozny, in his war on separatists in the 1990s (Photo: REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail)

Kerry said that talks with Russia in Lausanne, Switzerland over the weekend had failed to dispel “deep beliefs” that “Russia is simply pursuing a Grozny solution in Aleppo [in Syria] and is not prepared to truly engage in any way … Russia has decided - that’s what I meant by the Grozny strategy - to simply bomb indiscriminately and terrorise every human being”.

He said that he and Johnson “went through a large list of ideas, proposals to ratchet up that [diplomatic] pressure and to keep that pressure on, and they include economic proposals”.

Johnson said: “There are a lot of measures that we’re proposing to do with extra sanctions on the Syrian regime and their supporters [Russia], [including] measures to bring those responsible for war crimes before the International Criminal Court.”

He also praised a decision by French president Francois Hollande, last week, to downgrade a state visit by Russian leader Vladimir Putin to Paris, which led to Putin refusing to go.

“It was very significant that the French government … took a decision to turn what was going to be a sort of triumphal Putin mission to Paris into a discussion about Syria”, he said.

The EU and US have already imposed economic sanctions on Russian banks, oil firms, and arms makers over its invasion of Ukraine.

They have also blacklisted more than 200 Syrians and some 150 Russians over the Syria and Ukraine conflicts.

According to the German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, German chancellor Angela Merkel is considering new economic measures against the Russian aviation and defence industries.

According to the Reuters news agency, France, Germany, and the UK are also considering adding 20 Syrian names and 12 Russian names to the blacklists.

Meanwhile, Hollande, in an interview to six French regional newspapers published on Monday, said that he “will not ease the pressure” on Russia.

EU foreign ministers will discuss Syria at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

EU leaders will, at a dinner in Brussels on Thursday, also discuss their broader strategy toward Russia.

The summit talks will include how to handle Russia’s refusal to implement a ceasefire deal in Ukraine and, according to the Financial Times newspaper, how to push back against Russia’s funding of anti-EU political parties and fake NGOs inside Europe.

The foreign ministers aim to publish a joint statement saying that the actions of "Syria and its allies" may “amount to war crimes”.

A senior EU source said the Luxembourg meeting would task member states with drawing up a roll call of extra Syria names to be added to the blacklist later on.

But he said Russia would not be explicitly named in the joint statement and that any talk of extra Russia sanctions would be left for the EU leaders on Thursday.

"We don't want to sanction just for the sake of sanctioning, [the] priority is to stop attacks [in Syria]”, the source told EUobserver on Friday.

"We"re sanctioning Syrian officials, it's a real political message”, he added.

Another EU diplomatic source told press on Friday: “There are some saying that Russia should be on the table on Monday but I don't think there will be a consensus on that”.

Kerry on Sunday in London also warned that the US is considering military options to help the 10,000 or so Western-backed rebels and 275,000 civilians trapped in a rebel enclave in Aleppo.

“[US] president [Barack] Obama has not taken any options off the table at this point in time”, he said.

He added that “when a great power is involved in a fight like this, as Russia has chosen to be by going there and then putting its missiles in place in order to threaten people against military action, it raises the stakes of confrontation”.

He and Johnson said there is no appetite in Europe for further military intervention in Syria.

The risk of military confrontation with Russia is also being raised by critics of Nato’s decision to deploy a Russia-deterrent force in the Baltic countries and in Poland.

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-EU and pro-Russian Five Star party, told the Ansa news agency at the weekend that Italy’s contribution to the force, with 140 soldiers in Latvia, “risks exposing our country to ... war”.

But Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, defended the move, saying: “It is not a policy of aggression towards Russia, but of reassurance and defence of our borders as an alliance”.

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