Wednesday

19th Sep 2018

EU toes the line on Syria air strikes

  • French and British jets fired 17 missiles, alongside a US air and naval bombardment (Photo: navy.mil)

EU countries are preparing to back Western air strikes on Syria, the same way they backed the UK on Russia's chemical attack on a former spy.

The EU statement on Syria's use of chemical weapons against civilians is to come from foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (16 April), two days after France, the UK, and the US fired on chemical weapons facilities in the Middle Eastern country.

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  • Mogherini: "EU supportive of all efforts aimed at prevention of use of chemical weapons" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU "condemnation" of Syria's chemical warfare will be "unequivocal and crystal clear" an EU diplomat said.

It might also speak of further sanctions on Syria, he added.

He said France would brief ministers on the evidence it had of Syria's guilt.

"It's important that we [the EU] demonstrate that the attack is attributable to the [Syrian] regime. We're in an effort to convince some European countries which have doubts, but it's not what you will see come come out of the … [foreign ministers'] conclusions," the EU diplomat said.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, who will chair Monday's meeting, gave a foretaste of the feeling in Luxembourg in a statement over the weekend.

"The EU was informed about targeted US, French and UK airstrikes on chemical weapons facilities in Syria," she said.

"The EU is supportive of all efforts aimed at the prevention of the use of chemical weapons," she added.

The EU is "ready to consider imposing further measures [on Syria] as appropriate," she said.

European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker also gave a foretaste. "The international community has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible of any attack with chemical weapons," he said.

Angela Merkel, the German leader, was even more outspoken, despite fears of escalating tensions with Syria's ally, Russia.

"We support the fact that our US, British and French allies ... assumed their responsibilities. The military intervention was necessary and appropriate," she said in a statement.

Russia relations

The EU ministers will also discuss Russia relations on Monday.

Talks will focus on Russia's support for the Syrian regime, its aggression in Ukraine, and Europe's resilience to Russian hacking and propaganda, the EU diplomat said.

Ministers will also discuss "selective engagement" with the Kremlin, on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation in Iran, he said.

"It's important that the EU remains united … what we want to avoid is that each member state has an autonomous policy [on Russia]," the EU diplomat added.

"Our determination must be total, very clear, including regarding the impunity over the use of chemical weapons," he said.

Monday's talks come after EU states expelled dozens of Russian diplomats over Russia's attempt to kill a former spy in the UK using a chemical agent.

A joint EU statement at the time squarely blamed Russia, despite the fact that some member states had raised doubts behind closed doors.

Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, and Slovenia ultimately did not join in with the EU expulsions of Russians.

The German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, also warned on Sunday that "we should be at least as worried about the galloping alienation between Russia and the West, the consequences of which stretch far beyond this case [the UK attack]."

Different views

For his part, the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, continued to deny that Russia or Syria had done anything wrong in an interview with the Belgium-based news agency, Agence Europe, out on Monday.

"It was all fake," Chizhov said on Western evidence of the Syria chemical attack.

He described the chemical attack in the UK as "another attempt in a line of similar attempts by the British authorities to poison Russia-EU relations, not only Russia-UK relations."

Asked if Russia still had any friends in the EU Council, the Russian diplomat added: "I wouldn't name names, but I understand that there are different views".

Opinion

Does the EU have a Syria strategy?

Instability in the Mediterranean region is not in the long-term interest of Europe - that means mobilising leverage that the EU has in other areas to incentivise hard-nosed actors in Moscow, Tehran and Ankara to agree to the EU's vision.

Agenda

Macron and Syria top EU agenda This WEEK

French president to deliver speech on EU democratic model after populist victories in Hungary and Italy and amid an escalation of the Syria crisis.

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