British push for sanctions on Russia blocked by G7
LEADING EU countries have blocked British-inspired attempts to punish Russia over its alleged complicity in the brutal chemical weapons attack in Syria.
At a summit of the G7 countries, Germany, Italy and France vetoed a plan by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to hit Vladimir Putin’s regime with targeted sanctions.
Their decision to cave in to pressure from Moscow came despite allegations that Russia “bears responsibility” for the sarin gas attack which killed at least 84 people including more than 20 children.
Tests on victims of the attack in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province confirmed the use of sarin gas, Turkey’s health minister Recep Akdag said yesterday. And White House officials last night said “there is no evidence to support Russia claims that the Syria chemical attack was fabricated”.
The attack led to Donald Trump ordering a strike on the airfield from where the atrocity was launched on Friday.
The US has said that the strike took out 20 per cent of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s air force’s effective planes.
Speaking after the G7 meeting, Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano said there was “no consensus” over sanctions. However, he claimed the summit in Italy had been “a political success” despite a failure to take firm action against Russian military support for Assad.
He said leaders would use a “window of opportunity” created by last week’s US strike against the regime to revitalise political talks.
He said: “There was a prevalent position, which is very similar to the Italian one.
“We must have a dialogue with Russia and we must not push Russia into a corner. We must also ask Putin to demand the credit that has been up to now granted to Assad and in fact we think that the Russians have the strength that is needed to put pressure on Assad and to get him to observe the commitments regarding the ceasefire.”
Mr Johnson said Russia faces a “big strategic choice” as America’s top diplomat prepared to confront Moscow over its support for President Assad.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow last night to put pressure on the Russians to abandon their support for Assad. He is due to meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov today.
Mr Johnson said: “They have a big strategic choice. Do they want to stick with this guy who is poisoning his own people and poisoning the reputation of Russia or do they want to be part of the solution?”
Mr Johnson insisted that the option of sanctions remained on the table, with a new resolution to be tabled at the UN Security Council and a “chemical weapons group” inspection into what happened.
“After that, if of course we can find people, whether they are Syrians or whether they are Russians associated with the Syrian military operation, it is in my view wholly appropriate that they should face economic sanctions or sanctions of some other kind,” he said.
“That is something that had wide acceptance around the table last night, but you have got to do things in the proper, legal way.”
He said Mr Tillerson would offer a “re-set” of relations between Moscow and the West.
“Of course, everybody understands that Russia has political and strategic interests in Syria,” he added. “All that can be respected. What we all want to see is Russia engaging with a political process that involves a transition to a new government.”
Boris Johnson with Rex Tillerson, right, and German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, left, at the G7 in Lucca, Italy
Mr Putin has avoided new sanctions