Syrian opposition: EU should sanction Russia over Syria
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Syrian opposition: EU should sanction Russia over Syria

Delegation demands ‘accountability’ and ‘consequences’ for breaches of a tattered February ceasefire

A Russian tank operating in Aleppo, Syria in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
A Russian tank operating in Aleppo, Syria in 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — The European Union should consider slapping sanctions on Russia for violating the ceasefire in Syria, a high-ranking member of the war-ravaged country’s main opposition coalition said Tuesday.

“Russia should be paying a price for violating the cessation of hostilities,” Basma Kodmani, a negotiator for the opposition High Negotiations Committee, told AFP by phone from Brussels.

She was part of an HNC delegation which met with the EU’s top diplomat Frederica Mogherini and other top EU officials to discuss how the bloc could help get Syrian peace talks back on track.

Kodmani said the delegation had demanded “accountability” and “consequences” for breaches of a tattered truce agreed in February, “including speaking about sanctions for the Russians.”

She pointed out that the EU had already slapped sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, insisting that “Ukraine has not shown itself to be more important to the Europeans than Syria.”

International efforts to reach a political solution to Syria’s five-year war, which has killed more than 280,000 people, have faltered and the February 27 ceasefire brokered by the US and Russia has all but collapsed.

A Syrian man walks past a poster bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the capital Damascus on February 23, 2016, a day after a ceasefire deal was announced. (AFP/Louai Beshara)
A Syrian man walks past a poster bearing a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the capital Damascus on February 23, 2016, a day after a ceasefire deal was announced. (AFP/Louai Beshara)

And the last round of peace talks in Geneva reached a deadlock in April when the HNC suspended its participation over escalating fighting on the ground.

Kodmani blamed Russia especially for the breakdown in the talks, slamming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally for carrying out “massive airstrikes” as the negotiations were underway.

“When we talk to the Russians and they decide to bomb we lose hope that there is anything that will happen in Geneva,” she said.

The United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has said he hopes a new round of talks can start in July, but has warned they cannot proceed “while hostilities are escalating and civilians are starving.”

Kodmani insisted that the HNC “can’t go back to Geneva until there is some progress… We need positive messages on the ground.”

For the group to go back to the negotiating table, it will need to see moves towards a true ceasefire, and sustained access for humanitarian aid, she said, maintaining that Russia held the key to making this happen.

“It is time for Russia to answer this question: Does Russia still want Geneva?” she asked, adding that “if so, I think it’s worth trying again.”

Kodmani meanwhile said she would like to the European Union play a larger role in the negotiations.

In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian military personnel prepare a plane for take off at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian military personnel prepare a plane for take off at Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Pointing out that Washington will be increasingly distracted by its upcoming presidential elections, she stressed that “this is a time for the Europeans to play that political role.”

She acknowledged the EU too was going through tumultuous times after Britain last week voted to leave the bloc.

But after visiting Brussels she said she was convinced “it is all the more important for the EU to show that it still has the will and the capacity to be a political player, … and disprove predictions that Europe is weakened.”

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