Russia has faced renewed condemnations from various countries for its role in the Syrian Civil War.
Despite this, it has reaffirmed its role in the conflict by continually vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions to bring about an end to the war. It has also increased its military support for Bashar Al-Assad’s loyalist forces.
Russia mainly backed Assad’s forces through airstrikes, which have garnered increased criticism for the dangerous, haphazard and potentially criminal nature of the attacks. Civilian targets, such as hospitals, are routinely bombed by Russian forces.
The attacks have focused on Aleppo’s eastern rebel-held districts, while much of the west of the city remains relatively safe from harm.
Russia implemented its announced humanitarian pause for Aleppo on Thursday, which it also extended for an extra day. Bombings and other attacks by Russia and Syria have been on pause since Tuesday.
Russia and the Syrian government called upon rebels and civilians to lay down their arms and flee the city by blasting messages through loudspeakers in rebel-held districts. The Syrian military also dropped boxes containing soap and razors in east Aleppo along with am message ensuring their safety if they drop their arms and leave the city .
A leading U.N. humanitarian aid official for Syria said the U.N. hoped to conduct medical evacuations from eastern Aleppo during the pause. The U.N.’s Jan Egeland said they had received the necessary “green lights” from Assad’s forces, opposition groups, and Russia to begin the evacuations.
Egeland also said that the U.N. had received assurances from Moscow that the daily pauses would be extended from eight hours to eleven hours per day.
“We have gotten it extended in both hours and in terms of days,” he said. He added that the U.N. would “have a window from Friday at least until Monday” to evacuate east Aleppo’s sick and wounded.
Russia also launched its only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, on Tuesday, which will head through the North Sea and the English Channel before reaching Syria. NATO sources believe the carrier holds aircraft and munitions to further bomb Syria.
EU leaders are now weighing sanctions against Russia if they fail to put an end to the ongoing violence, according to a draft summit statement attained by Agence Free-Press that hardly conceals its intended target.
“The EU is considering all options, including further restrictive measures targeting individuals and entities supporting the regime, should the current atrocities continue,” said the statement, obtained days before the summit in Brussels that opens on Thursday.
On October 20 at a joint press briefing in Berlin, French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angel Merkel emphasized that the role of re-launching talks that could end the conflict in Syria lay with Russia.
Hollande called the ongoing devastation in Aleppo “a true war crime” and called for maximum international pressure on Russia, while Merkel called the airstrikes on terrorist hot spots in eastern Aleppo “inhumane”.
“We are sure that it is impossible to separate terrorists and civilians when such bombardments are taking place”, she said. Hollande also stated that bombardments should be “out of the question”. Neither of the two leaders ruled out the possibility of introducing new sanctions against Russia at the EU summit, held from October 20-21.
“We should not exclude this possibility,” said Merkel.
Putin also held a news conference, pivoting the focus towards eastern Ukraine and the lack of progress on talks to end the conflict in the country.
He also emphasized that Moscow has been calling for the creation of a new Syrian constitution, which would facilitate the reintroduction of the Syrian government to power.
“I once again reminded our colleagues that Russia proposes to step up work in this sphere on devising and adopting a new constitution, on the basis of which preliminary elections may be held and positions of all conflicting parties may be preliminarily coordinated,” he said.
While the diplomatic process in Syria has fallen apart, the introduction of sanctions against Russia would be a decisive new chapter in the history of sanctions as a form of geopolitical leverage. With traditional avenues for peace failing, western governments are becoming more and more inclined to seek such heavy-handed tactics in order to ensure peace in Aleppo.