EU divided over Russia in Syria and more sanctions

Russia's role in the Syrian conflict has led to calls for further sanctions to be imposed. Critics of this plan say that new sanctions will achieve little. [Shutterstock]

Russia’s role in Syria has led to calls for more sanctions against Moscow, but the deadline for deciding whether to renew the current raft of punitive measures is fast approaching. There are powerful figures on both side of the argument. EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

In the EU, a debate is raging about whether or not to impose new sanctions on Russia. Poland, as well as the United Kingdom, wants Brussels to impose new measures on Russia, in punishment for its bombardment of civilians in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo. The issue is set to dominate a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Luxembourg today (17 October). as well as the full-fat Council meeting at the end of the week.

After Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, the EU imposed sanctions on Moscow. The bloc has to decide whether or not to renew them in January. In the wake of an attack on a UN aid convoy at the end of September, near Aleppo, for which Russia has been widely blamed, a new set of sanctions could be levied on Moscow. This would require a unanimous decision by the member states.

Luxembourg’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean Asselborn told Der Tagesspiegel that further sanctions against Russia will not be a part of today’s meeting’s final declaration. Asselborn claimed that punitive measures will do little to solve the Syrian conflict. “I don’t understand how sanctions are meant to contribute to a ceasefire in Syria,” he said. The Luxembourger added that monitoring the ceasefire in Syria would be more useful than more sanctions.

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Asselborn’s French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has already spoken out against further measures against Russia. Ayrault insisted that the “only way” out of the conflict, which has lasted five years already, is negotiation.

The previous ceasefire came into force last month, but collapsed after a short while. Since last weekend, the US and Russia, along with regional powers, have been holding talks in Lausanne, with the aim of crafting a new ceasefire.

The Swiss meeting came to a close after four hours on Saturday (15 October), with little to show for their efforts. Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov insisted that they would proceed “over the coming days”.

Yesterday, Lavrov’s US equivalent, John Kerry, filled his European colleagues in on what had happened at the meeting. In a telephone call with German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, both men were in agreement that despite the current difficult situation, all parties must continue to work towards a solution and a humanitarian truce.

Additionally, aid has to arrive in east Aleppo, in order for the besieged there to receive valuable supplies. Berlin’s foreign office added that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “as well as his allies in Russia and Iran”, have a duty to broker a ceasefire.

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German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, on the other hand, reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel will push for more sanctions at the EU summit, starting on Thursday (20 October). The newspaper cited sources that attested to Merkel’s alleged “displeasure” with the Russians.

However, it isn’t just France, Luxembourg and the countries of southern Europe that oppose further sanctions, Merkel’s coaltion partners do too. The SPD’s vice-chairman, Ralf Stegner, told Der Tagesspiegel that “despite all the criticism that we have about Russia’s role in Syria, new sanctions aren’t going to make anything better. More negotiation, as Foreign Minister Steinmeier has said, is the only way forward.”


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