Germany is considering a push for European sanctions against Russia in response to its actions in the Syria conflict, a person familiar with the German deliberations said Wednesday, signaling that Europe is seeking new ways to pressure Moscow to quell the violence there.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, the person said, is examining ways to push Moscow to change course in Syria, where Russian warplanes have supported Syrian government forces in a siege of rebel-held areas in the city of Aleppo.
Western leaders are calling the situation an increasingly grave humanitarian crisis. German and U.S. officials have said Russia is behind some of the bombardment of hospitals and other civilian installations in Aleppo.
The deliberations among German officials on possible sanctions are in their early stages, and it’s not clear how broadly Ms. Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats, would support them. But they are among the first signs that Europe, frustrated by Russia and fearful of a worsening of the refugee crisis, could swing to a tougher line.
When asked earlier Wednesday about the possibility of Russian sanctions over Syria, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, which is headed by Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said, “At the moment I know no one, neither in Berlin nor anywhere else, who has such proposals.”
A spokesman for Ms. Merkel declined to comment, referring to the statement from the Foreign Ministry. The Foreign Ministry spokesman declined further comment.
The prospect of new EU sanctions on Russia would likely run up against opposition elsewhere in the bloc, where leaders are under pressure from populist politicians to improve relations with Moscow. In recent days, European diplomats have said there is little support in the bloc for fresh sanctions on Russia.
At the same time, European leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with Moscow’s behavior in Syria. The escalating violence has raised fears of a new wave of refugees entering Turkey and possibly trying to make their way to Europe.
The U.S. broke off discussions with Russia on Monday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Russian and Syrian air forces to be removed from the skies over Aleppo, the Syrian city where hundreds of civilians have died in recent days in an intense aerial bombardment.
Officials in the U.S. are deeply divided over the efficacy of stepped-up military action in Syria. But some U.S. officials said European sanctions are likely the best means to get Russia to shift its position on the Syrian civil war and take a more constructive position.