EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini joined the foreign ministers of France, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US on Saturday (24 September) in ordering Russia to take “extraordinary steps” to bring about a truce in its ally Syria. But renewed attacks by Syrian forces on Sunday prompted stronger criticism by the US.
The allies pressed Moscow to allow unfettered humanitarian assistance, halt the Syrian regime’s “indiscriminate” bombing of its own people and create the conditions necessary to resume political transition talks led by the United Nations.
“The burden is on Russia to prove it is willing and able to take extraordinary steps to salvage diplomatic efforts,” read a joint statement that included the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States and the European Union’s top diplomat.
A weeklong ceasefire agreed between the United States and Russia ended last Monday and efforts to revive the so-called cessation of hostilities (CoH) failed.
That same day, an aid convoy was hit by an air strike that US officials blame on Russia.
The EU has added its voice to the international row over the deadly attack on a humanitarian convoy near Aleppo on Monday (19 September), but – unlike the USA – it did not point its finger at Russia.
“Patience with Russia’s continued inability or unwillingness to adhere to its commitments is not unlimited,” the diplomats said.
“The outrageous bombing of a humanitarian convoy, the Syrian regime’s public denunciation of the CoH, continuing reports that the regime is using chemical weapons, and the unacceptable ongoing regime offensive on eastern Aleppo, supported by Russia, blatantly contradicts Russia’s claim that it supports a diplomatic resolution.”
On Saturday, heavy air strikes toppled buildings and killed at least 45 civilians in Aleppo, two days after the Syrian army announced an offensive to retake the rebel-held east of the city.
Syrian forces pounded rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Sunday, killing at least 85 people and wounding more than 300 others, an activist group reported.
At a UN Security Council crisis meeting Sunday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by the military escalation in the beleaguered Syrian city and that the use of bunker-busting bombs “brings the violence to new depths of barbarity.”
Ban added that the airstrikes, incendiary weapons and bombs in densely populated areas may amount to war crimes.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that Russian support of Assad’s deadly offensive was “barbarism.”
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism,” she told the Security Council.
“Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
But Russia defended its position.
“In Syria hundreds of armed groups are being armed, the territory of the country is being bombed indiscriminately and bringing a peace is almost an impossible task now because of this,” Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council.