Boris Johnson declares Aleppo crisis ‘shames humanity’ but EU split over Russia sanctions


The Foreign Secretary, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, furthered his fierce criticism of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the brutal leader”s “puppeteers” in Moscow.

Last week, Mr Johnson had warned Russia it risks becoming a “pariah” state thanks to its actions in war-torn Syria, where it has faced accusations of war crimes for backing the bombing of Aleppo by Assad regime forces targeting civilians.

But despite Mr Johnson raising the prospect of further economic sanctions against Russia in response to the Aleppo atrocities, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini played down the chances of fresh action amid divided opinion among member states.

France’s foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “The pressure [on Russia] must be strong.

“The more the EU shows unity and determination, the more we can move forward in what is a moral obligation: to stop the massacre of the population of Aleppo.”

Spain would back Russian sanctions if they helped “bring Russia”s position closer to ours” the country’s acting foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said.

But Russia’s closest EU allies Greece, Cyprus and Hungary are believed to be against further action against Moscow.

Austria’s foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, whose country is a transit point for flows of Russian gas to Europe, said: “The idea to have additional sanctions against Russia would be wrong.

“We do not need a further escalation.”

Arriving at the meeting today, Ms Mogherini said she was “proud” the EU was not involved militarily on the ground in Syria, in the battle against so-called Islamic State jihadists and other extremist groups.

She said: “The EU is not a military player on the ground in Syria – I have to add personally, I am proud of not being one – but we encourage and we support all initiatives that lead or can lead to a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, a solution among those who have a direct influence on the ground with those who are fighting. “

Playing down the prospect of greater EU-led sanctions against Russia, she added: “I personally tend to focus on the fact that the EU does not only have sanctions in its toolbox.

“We have many other instruments we can use, we have the instruments for pressure, we also have leverages for good. And so a good mix of the two, I think, is always wise and useful.

“So today we will focus on all tracks, but again, on sanctions on Russia, that was not proposed by any Member State at the moment.”

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Johnson, who caused a diplomatic row with his outspoken criticism of Russia last week, said: “The bulk of the discussion will probably be about Syria and the continuing crisis in Aleppo that shames humanity frankly; the bombing of civilians, the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent women and children taking place in that City.

“We will be discussing how to keep that pressure up on the Assad regime and on its puppeteers in the form of the Russian Government. Also of course the Iranians, and what we can do to put pressure there.

He added: “As everybody knows there are a variety of things that we are doing, there are economic sanctions, but there is a huge amount of diplomatic pressure of one kind or another also being applied.

“I stress that the solution to this, the future salvation of Aleppo lies really with the Assad regime and above all the Russians.

“It is up to them to pull the plug on this thing, to see sense and I appeal to the greatness of the Russian people to choose a different path and to go for peace, get us back on the path of negotiations in Geneva. That is what we need and that is what we will be discussing.”