The joint plan between the US and the UK to pile the pressure on Russia has fallen apart after the G7 group of industrialised nations failed to back the bid.
A call by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, for targeted sanctions against senior Russian and Syrian figures was vetoed by Germany and Italy.
At the meeting in Italy, the group said there must be an investigation into last week’s chemical weapons attack before new measures could be adopted.
“It is in my view wholly appropriate that they should face economic sanction or sanctions of some other kind” – Boris Johnson, UK foreign secretary
The Italian foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, said there was no consensus for fresh sanctions on Russia, adding Putin “must not be pushed into a corner”, suggesting Italy may not support extra sanctions even if an investigation proves Assad was to blame.
The G7 does however lay the blame for the chemical attack at the door of the Assad regime. And ministers have strongly supported US missile strikes that targeted a Syrian airbase believed to have been used to launch the attack.
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The US bombing is thought to have destroyed some 20 percent of Assad’s fighter jets.
Trump and May team up against Russia
Johnson was taking cues from US president Donald Trump and British prime minister Theresa May who last night said in a joint statement that there was “a window of opportunity” to persuade Russia that “its allegiance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest”.
That window would appear to be shrinking rapidly without the group’s consensus however.
Earlier in the day, EU officials said no sanctions could be contemplated without the unanimous backing of all member states, while Canada underlined the need for due process before pushing ahead.
Speaking to Sky News Johnson said:
What we are doing now is tabling a resolution in the UN security council. There is going to be a chemical weapons inspection group investigation into exactly what happened … it is in my view wholly appropriate that they should face economic sanction or sanctions of some other kind.”
Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow
The G7 had wanted to deliver a united message to Russia through the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who heads to Moscow later today.
The Russian foreign ministry released a truculent statement ahead of Tillerson’s arrival noting that Russian-US relations were going through the “most difficult period since the end of the Cold War”.
It said the “long list of irritants that have arisen through Washington’s fault is not decreasing”.
It said Russia was expecting Washington to agree to an investigation of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, it said, again claiming that the Syrian government was not to blame.