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Trouble in Brussels
Italy Scuttles New Russia Sanctions Proposal

Forget about new sanctions on Russia for its bombing of Aleppo: the leaders of Germany, France, and Britain folded after Italy’s Matteo Renzi voiced his opposition. FT:

During nine hours of talks at a European summit in Brussels, the Italian prime minister succeeded in removing a proposal for new sanctions that had been tabled by Berlin, Paris and London on the eve of the meeting.

Mr Renzi, whose premiership is on the line in a constitutional referendum in December, said as he left the talks around 2am on Friday that it was difficult to see how the task of achieving peace in Syria was linked to new sanctions.

“I think that to refer in the text to sanctions makes no sense,” Mr Renzi told reporters. 

“So I think that the words we wrote in the final document are the right ones — to say we need to do everything possible to promote an agreement [to end the war] in Syria.”

A European statement to “do everything possible” is unlikely to sway the resolve of Vladimir Putin, who has overseen an indiscriminate bombing of Aleppo designed to bolster Assad’s position in the rebel stronghold. Russia has blatantly violated the terms of the ceasefire it negotiated, shrugged off Western charges of war crimes, and is now sending warships with fighter bombers across the Mediterranean Sea to intensify its assault on Aleppo. Putin shows no signs of changing course.

The Europeans have responded by rejecting one of the few plausible proposals to punish Russia. Hollande and Merkel raised the threat of new EU sanctions at a meeting with Putin on Wednesday; today, those threats ring hollow. Europe has once again exposed its credibility deficit.

As in Ukraine, European leaders have proven that they cannot summon the political will to counter Putin forcefully. Renzi is only a symptom of the problem: although he led the charge against new sanctions, the Italian Prime Minister was channeling the concerns of Spain, Austria, Cyprus, Greece, Finland and others who fear antagonizing Moscow.

In theory, all options remain on the table, and there is an outside possibility that sanctions could be introduced if the situation in Aleppo deteriorates further. But Renzi’s successful campaign against the sanctions proposal has exposed Europe’s unwillingness to act. So long as that is the case, Putin will continue to change facts on the ground, while the West wags fingers.

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