Late this summer, the general consensus was that EU leaders would have a difficult time pulling a sanctions extension on Russia together. But what a difference a few weeks makes! Reuters:
While the EU says conflicts in Syria and Ukraine need to be kept separate, the latest military offensive by Damascus and its ally Moscow on rebel-held eastern Aleppo further clouds the strained ties between Moscow and the bloc. That weakens the hand of Italy, Hungary and others who have steadily increased pressure for easing sanctions, returning to doing business and reengaging with Moscow after first hitting it with punitive measures for annexing Crimea in March 2014.
“It’s clear that the assault on Aleppo has changed the mindset of some. It will be impossible to back an easing of sanctions on Ukraine in the current context,” said one EU foreign minister.
A French diplomatic source echoed the view, saying: “The prospect of the Russian sanctions over Ukraine being lifted are practically nil after Aleppo.” France says the Aleppo attacks amount to war crimes and wants Syria and Russia investigated. EU and NATO officials on Monday said the Ukraine sanctions on Russia should be kept in place.
“There is just no appetite for an easing of sanctions now. Ukraine is one thing, but what is going on in Syria creates no atmosphere for any overall improvement in ties with Russia,” said one diplomat in Brussels.
Hell hath no fury like a eurocrat scorned. Reuters’ reporting echoes things we have been hearing over the weekend from people who might know: the mood in Brussels has markedly soured in recent weeks towards Moscow—and not only because of Syria. Moscow’s escalation on the Crimean border finally got European leaders wondering if Russia has maybe been yanking their chain all along.
EU Foreign Ministers are meeting on October 20 to discuss next steps. An escalation of sanctions, something the French appear to be pushing for, is not likely to pass. But the fact that more sanctions are even on the agenda suggests that the status quo is likely to hold.