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Opposition against Russia's Syria policy grows

October 11, 2016

The EU may extend sanctions against Russia after its latest bombardments in Syria. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned that Russia was under threat of becoming a pariah nation.

Bombardment of Aleppo
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

The European Union announced that it is feeling less likely to ease sanctions on Moscow originally introduced over the Ukraine crisis, as Russia has apparently intensified its air strikes on rebels in Syria. The most recent military offensive by Damascus and its key ally Moscow on rebel-held eastern Aleppo appears to have further strained ties between Moscow and the EU. Moscow has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the five-year conflict.

NATO officials also stressed that the Ukraine sanctions on Russia should be kept in place, without specifying whether this was in reference to the situation in Syria or Russia's ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Boris Johnson
UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said Russia was in danger of becoming a pariah nationImage: picture-alliance/ZUMA Press/M. J. Sullivan

Meanwhile a number of representatives from a selection of EU member states including Italy and Hungary, who had earlier suggested revisiting the idea of easing the Ukraine sanctions, disagreed with the view to keep the punitive measures in place over the issue of Syria.

France has meanwhile taken the lead in starting discussions on whether to impose new sets of sanctions on Russia, specifically over Syria.

Strong words from UK foreign secretary

Britain has also echoed those views: "We have to step up the pressure on Assad's regime through sanctions and on the Russians through sanctions," UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Johnson also said that Russia could risk becoming a pariah nation if it continued to bomb civilian targets. He also stressed that international powers needed to do more to punish Moscow with sanctions.

"If Russia continues on its current path then I think that great country is in danger of becoming a pariah nation," Johnson told the House of Commons, Britain's lower house of parliament.

"All the available evidence therefore points to a Russian responsibility for the atrocity," he said, referring to the attack on a humanitarian aid convoy in September 2016 during a nominal cease-fire.

Johnson also called on anti-war protest groups to take to demonstrating outside the Russian embassy in London. Hundreds of people have continued to die in aerial attacks on the opposition-held parts of the city of Aleppo since the collapse of a short-lived truce in September.

Another British lawmaker has meanwhile compared the Syrian and Russian airstrikes on Aleppo to the notorious Nazi bombing of civilians in the city of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939.

Conservative Party lawmaker Andrew Mitchell said that an attack on a hospital amounted to "an international war crime." "They are doing to Aleppo precisely what the Nazis did to Guernica" in 1937, Mitchell said.

Russian foreign minister turns to Iran for backing

Amid the opposition to Russia's Syria policy, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to try to push for a new political solution to the Syria crisis. Lavrov and Zarif agreed to seek political agreements to resolve the situation in Syria as part of a wider international push for peace.

The diplomatic initiative between Russia and Iran comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin had cancelled a visit next week to Paris, as French President Francois Hollande said he would "talk about Syria, and only Syria."

France had said a day earlier that it wanted the bombardment of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to be investigated by the International Criminal Court as a war crime, as UN Syria envoy Mistura warned that East Aleppo may be completely destroyed by the end of the year if the bombings continued.

A number of meetings between the EU and Russia scheduled for later in October might reveal the bloc's future strategy with regards to sanctions.

ss/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)