By Cécile Barbière and Georgi Gotev
(EurActiv) — Germany is mulling sanctions against Russia over Syria, and France is considering asking the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to launch an investigation into war crimes it says have been committed by Syrian and Russian forces in eastern Aleppo.
Germany is considering the possibility of imposing new sanctions against Russia over its bombings hitting hospitals and civilians in the Syrian second largest city of Aleppo, diplomats told EurActiv.com on Monday (October 10).
Moscow has repeatedly denied attacking civilians, and said it is targeting terrorist groups.
Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called the bombings “war crimes”.
“We shall contact the International Criminal Court prosecutor to see how she can launch these investigations,” he said, speaking to France Inter radio.
Ayrault also hinted that a visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to France on 19 October may be cancelled, saying that President François Hollande would not welcome his Russian counterpart to just trade “pleasantries”.
Hollande said he was unsure whether to see his Russian counterpart when he visits Paris and condemned Putin’s “unacceptable” support for Syrian air strikes, in excerpts from a TV interview released on Sunday.
Asked about the visit, Hollande told TF1 television he would “probably” receive Putin.
“I’m still asking myself the question,” he added.
The population of heavily bombarded eastern Aleppo “are today the victims of war crimes”, the French president said. “Those who commit these acts will be held responsible, including before the International Criminal Court.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry also called for a war crimes investigation last week.
“It is very dangerous to play with such words because war crimes also weigh on the shoulders of American officials,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, according to RIA news agency.
It is unclear how the ICC could proceed given that the court has no jurisdiction for crimes in Syria because it is not a member of the ICC.
It appears the only way for the case to make it to the ICC would be through the UN Security Council referral, which has been deadlocked over Syria. Moscow vetoed a French resolution in May 2014 to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.
Commission spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said she had seen press reports about possible sanctions on Russia, but reiterated that unanimity was required for such a move.
She said it remained to be seen what proposals would be tabled ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 October. This ministerial meeting is preparing the EU summit on 20-21 October, where EU-Russia relations are one of the agenda items.
Initially, the summit planned to explore the possibility of improving strained ties with Russia in response to growing irritation among some member states over economic sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
But in the meantime, the climate of relations with Russia worsened. Russia is reported to be sending Iskander-M missile systems to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, at the border with Poland.
It has a range of 300 miles and can carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead. An Iskander-M based in Kaliningrad can strike targets deep in Poland and across the whole Baltic region.