Over the weekend, attention was again paid to the movements of a Russian military vessel. On Friday, the Russian frigate ‘Admiral Grigorovich’, armed with advanced cruise missiles, arrived at the Syrian coast from its Black Sea post. The ship is an addition to the Russian military fleet, which had already entered the Mediterranean Sea two weeks ago through the straight of Gibraltar.
This week, all eyes will be on the US presidential elections. This provides Russian President Putin with an opportunity to use his military fleet to carry out devastating bombardments on East-Aleppo. The Kremlin is known for using the world's distraction for its own goals. It is not only the media that will not be paying attention to Syria. Until today, the EU has been incapable of holding Putin to account for the atrocities his forces are committing in Syria, for example by placing sanctions on his regime. Chances are high that Putin and Assad’s next attack will once again go without concrete consequence.
Italy blocks EU sanctions
After the continuous attacks on Aleppo and the Russian attack of a UN aid convoy, it seemed inevitable that sanctions would be placed on the Syrian and Russian regimes. Yet, during the last meeting of EU leaders, on October 21st, the Italian Prime Minister managed to block any reference to sanctions in an official statement. Next week, the European Ministers of Foreign Affairs will gather in Brussels. It is vital that the crimes of Putin and Assad will be put on the agenda of that meeting, and that sanctions will be on the agenda. The paralysing vetoes by member state governments have led to a situation where the EU is still divided on Syria, despite the scale and impact of its devastating war. A fragmented EU is a weak EU. In the meantime, not only Russia, but also Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are the ones controlling the situation on the ground as well as laying down the rules at the negotiating table.
EU credibility on the line
It is no secret that Italy is keen on keeping good relations with Russia. But Federica Mogherini, currently High Representative of the entire EU, should not be guided by political and national interests. As EU foreign policy chief, Mogherini is the very person that needs to show leadership, ambition and independence in the shaping and implementation of the EU’s common foreign policy. Renzi comes from the same country and is a member of the same party. Mogherini cannot allow him to place the economic interests of one country in the way of sanctions against a murderous regime, responsible for thousands of deaths. Over the many hollow words with which the EU, in statements and sometimes only in tweets, ‘responds’ to human rights abuses, political developments and even war crimes, leaders such as Putin, Assad and Erdogan will not lose a minute’s sleep. In the meantime, they make use of divisions within the EU to drive their own interests.
Principles must come first
Far too often, EU member states place (economic) interests above the principles on which the EU is founded. The so-called deals, concluded with repressive regimes to block migration and prevent terror, are a case in point. In the short term, such agreements may seem effective, but they undermine the credibility and the decisiveness of the EU. In the long term, the EU’s interests can only be guaranteed, when their promotion goes hand in hand with the promotion of universal rights and values. Above all, this is the right thing to do.