EU agrees new Syria sanctions, makes no progress with Russia


Union foreign ministers imposed fresh sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime Monday but failed to iron out differences with Russia over how to end the deadly conflict.
As violence intensified in Syria, ministers agreed an assets freeze and travel ban against 28 Syrians and two firms, the bloc’s 19th round of restrictive measures against the Assad regime since the start of the conflict in March last year. There were no details on those concerned. Their identities will be released Tuesday in the EU Official Journal.
But diplomats said the sanctions target people linked to violence against protesters, or firms accused of supplying equipment used by the regime to repress a protest movement now entering its 20th month.
Assad so far has shown no sign of buckling under EU sanctions while Moscow maintains its support, despite EU embargos on imports and investment in oil, as well as a ban on trade in gold and precious metals.
The latest sanctions bring to 181 the number of people and to 54 the number of companies on an EU blacklist, many of them members of Assad’s inner circle.
The new measures were accompanied by a ban on EU residents buying, shipping, insuring or assisting in any way Syrian companies that trade or transport arms.
With tensions between Turkey and Syria raising fears of a spillover, the conflict in Syria and how to end it was at the centre of closed door talks in Luxembourg on Sunday between the 27 EU ministers and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. But the discussion was tense and made little to no headway, said ministers and diplomats.
“We discussed Syria really in all its dimensions with Mr Lavrov last night,” said British Foreign Secretary Willian Hague. “I can’t say that we made any progress.”
Moscow, Damascus’s main arms supplier, has repeatedly refused to back international calls for Assad to step down and together with China jointly vetoed three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against the Syrian leader. Hague said Turkey’s confiscation of a cargo of radar equipment from a civilian flight from Moscow last week was raised during the three-and-a-half-hour dinner — which one diplomatic source told AFP was “extremely tense” during discussion on Syria.
“We had an exchange of ideas,” Hague said. “But as has been the case for many months with Russia we didn’t reach any agreement.” Turkey said Sunday it had banned Syrian civilian aircraft from its airspace, mirroring a similar move by Damascus over the plane incident. Calling for moderation between the two neighbours, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned that “the danger of a massive spillover in the region is on the rise. And that is in nobody’s interest, including Russia’s”.
“It is important to convince those who continue to protect the Assad regime that the danger of a wider blaze is mounting, that the danger of a proxy war is on the rise. “It is also important to clearly tell Russia it has no interest in a spillover that would inflame the entire region.” Westerwelle said Sunday that it was essential for world peace that the EU iron out kinks in its ties with its powerful eastern neighbour. But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters that the “common ground” found between the EU and Russia at the dinner was to agree to support the efforts of new UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to halt a conflict that activists say has now claimed more than 33,000 lives.