EU shames Russia on Aleppo 'massacre'
The EU has named Russia as being partly responsible for a “massacre” of “historic” proportions in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
“Since the beginning of the offensive by the [Syrian] regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate … and may amount to war crimes”, EU foreign ministers said in a joint statement in Luxembourg on Monday (17 October).
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They implicated Russia in the “deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel”, in the “targeting of a UN humanitarian convoy on 19 September”, and in the use of “starvation of civilians … as a tactic of war”.
They said the Russian-led air strikes had used illegal munitions, such as “cluster bombs”, and that Russia’s ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, was guilty of “confirmed use of chemical weapons”.
They called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” so that aid convoys could reach the combat zone.
They did not threaten new sanctions against Russia, but they said they would add extra names of Syrian regime members and entities to their blacklist.
Russia, half-way through the EU ministers’ talks, announced an eight-hour ceasefire in Aleppo on Thursday, but the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said aid agencies needed at least 12 hours to get in and out.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, said EU states would not use military force to halt the killing.
But he said “Europe must mobilise” its “political force, moral force” because “if Assad achieves his aim, which is the fall of Aleppo and the massacre of the population, it will be a stain on the history of Europe”.
“We said clearly to Russia that you can stop this massacre”, he said.
Stefan de Mistura, the UN’s special envoy on Syria, said there were 100,000 children in the line of fire and that people had had no aid for one month.
“Between now and December, if we don’t find a solution for Aleppo, Aleppo will not be there anymore”, he said, adding, like France's Ayrault, that “history will judge us” if the Russian-Syrian campaign goes on.
Britain and the US had, prior to the Luxembourg meeting, said they were considering additional economic sanctions against Russia.
Lithuania's foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, joined them on Monday, telling the RFE-RFL news agency that sanctions were the EU’s “only leverage” and that without them “we cannot expect any change of the situation” in Syria.
EU leaders will discuss Russia relations and whether to extend the life of existing economic measures, imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at a dinner on Thursday in Brussels.
Diplomats said events in Aleppo had made the extension of existing measures all-but a done deal, but Germany and Austria said on Monday that they were “sceptical” about additional restrictions.
“I don't see how sanctions with a possible long-term effect are supposed to contribute to improving supplies to the civilian population [in Aleppo] … So I'm not the only one who, in this case, is rather skeptical about sanctions”, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said: “We do not need a further escalation”.
An EU source said Mogherini was also in the sceptics' camp. She "thought the EU needs to be engaged with everybody, and wants a role for the EU, so not to alienate Russia”, the source said.
Russian statements the same day indicated it would not change path.
Sergei Rudskoy, a defence spokesman, told the Tass news agency that even the eight-hour ceasefire “makes no sense” because it would help jihadist fighters, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, to regroup.
Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy prime minister, said Western criticism on Syria was due to US geopolitics. “If something does not suit the United States in Russia’s behaviour, shouts about sanctions begin”, he said.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, also ruled out any change in Ukraine.
Russia, France, Germany, and Ukraine had spoken of holding a summit in Berlin on 19 October - one day before the EU leaders’ talks on Russia in Brussels.
But Peskov said on Monday the chances of the Berlin meeting were “next to nil” because aides had not completed preparatory work.