Europe must end its silence on Syria

ECFR Council members call for European states to provide emergency airlift services in Aleppo and implement additional sanctions on Russia for its complicity in war crimes

Member of the German Bundestag for Alliance 90/The Greens
ECFR co-chair
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag

This is a translation of a petition appeal by ECFR Council members Franziska Brantner and Norbert Röttgen, calling on the European Council to implement sanctions on the Russian leadership for their war crimes in Syria, and calling on European member states to provide emergency airlift services for civilians trapped in Aleppo. You can sign the petition here

 

For our work on the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the German Bundestag, we follow the appalling situation in Syria on a daily basis. But the atrocities committed by the Assad regime and their Russian allies can no longer go unanswered.

We therefore call on the European Council to act at last and to impose sanctions on those responsible.

Just a few days ago, the UN Special Envoy for Syria was in Berlin and gave a gloomy forecast. Staffan de Mistura feared that if the massive bombardment continues, there will be no East Aleppo left by Christmas. On Monday reports emerged that Assad’s forces were gaining ground in Aleppo. The catastrophe de Mistura had foreseen is approaching ever closer.

But what are we doing about it – in Europe, in Germany? We welcome the UN’s crisis diplomacy and respect the tireless efforts of certain individuals. We are well versed in expressing our concern and making appeals. But apart from that there is too much restraint and fatalism. There has been far too much silence. Assad, with the help of his Russian allies, has razed cities to the ground, dropped barrel bombs, driven people from their homes, and – most appallingly – has even destroyed hospitals and schools.

Under the guise of combating terrorism, Assad has waged war against his own people for almost six years. To quash the opposition, he has deliberately sought to starve out and destroy whole cities as well as ‘cleansing’ vast swathes of the country. War crimes are taking place. To secure and consolidate power, Assad has enforced the most brutal and violent of strategies. And all with the vigorous assistance provided by Moscow.

We cannot endure all this. We must not get used to images of the mass flow of refugees, the death of thousands of children and civilians, and we will look away no longer. Reactions of horror and disbelief are no longer enough where inhumane cynicism prevails. When war crimes are committed, they must be identified, along with their perpetrators.

And we can do more. The West imposed sanctions on Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Why has no further action been taken, although it is obvious and has been well-documented that the leadership in Moscow is guilty of the worst crimes in Syria on a daily basis? The EU should at least sanction these Russian actors. It cannot be that those responsible for these war crimes can fly to Munich or Paris, while in Syria men, women and children are dying at their hands.

Yes – (further) economic sanctions take time to take effect; but Putin would have to include their impact into his calculations of the consequences of his action in Syria.

Yes – airlifts carry risks; they require safety guarantees and partners willing to carry them out. But have we really tried hard enough to provide help for all those who have been forgotten and desperate for months in towns besieged by Assad’s forces?

We say: No. And so we call for action now, not a day later. Sign this petition as a sign of your solidarity.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Authors

Member of the German Bundestag for Alliance 90/The Greens
ECFR co-chair
Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag