EU leaders meeting on October 20 said they will consider all options against the Syrian government and Russia for atrocities committed in the besieged city of Aleppo, but met resistance from Italy in the issue of imposing new economic sanctions against Moscow.
After a summit in Brussels, European Council President Donald Tusk said the 28 leaders “strongly condemned the attacks by the Syrian regime and its allies, notably Russia, on civilians in Aleppo. The European Union is calling for an end to the atrocities and immediate cessation of hostilities. It considers all available options if these atrocities continue”.
Russian planes this month intensified their bombing of opposition forces in Aleppo, with strikes also on civilian targets including hospitals, drawing international condemnation and calls for war crimes charges to be brought against Russia.
However, a mention of possible further economic sanctions against the country was dropped from an earlier draft of the summit conclusions at the request of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, EU sources told Agence France-Presse.
The conclusions spoke only of examining “all available options” and saying that “those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be held accountable”.
The existing EU economic sanctions against Russia are due for review at the end of the year and are expected to be extended for another six months in January. But with Russia’s economy looking set to return to growth next year despite the measures and low oil prices, some EU members states want to step up the sanctions to curb Moscow’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy.
In a wider discussion of strategy at the summit the 28 leaders agreed to “keep the unity of the EU” on Russia following two and a half years of tensions over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s support for separatists in East Ukraine.
Issues included “airspace violations, disinformation campaigns, cyberattacks, interference in political processes in the Balkans and beyond” and other issues.
“Given these examples it is clear that Russia’s strategy is to weaken the EU,” AFP quoted Tusk as saying. “We have a sober assessment of the reality and no illusions. Increasing tensions with Russia is not our aim, we are simply reacting to steps taken by Russia.”