European leaders have ruled out introducing a fresh bout of sanctions against Russia for its role in the Syrian conflict, with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi leading the argument against more economic punishment for the country.
After nine hours of talks on Thursday night, Renzi successfully fought against including a reference to new immediate sanctions in the EU's worded summit statement released Friday. He said to reporters in Brussels, "I think that to refer in the text to sanctions makes no sense."
Renzi positioned himself on the opposite side of the debate to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, all of whom want to exert the maximum pressure – including sanctions if necessary - on Russia in a bid to encourage President Vladimir Putin's armed forces to desist from their continued assault on Aleppo.
The besieged Syrian city has suffered from the killing of hundreds of civilians and currently counts around 275,000 people as trapped within its confines, after months of indiscriminate attacks, including on children, aid convoys and hospitals, according to Reuters.
Russia's involvement over the past year has successfully weakened the position of rebel fighters and shored up Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
Despite the omission of sanctions from the EU's latest official statement, President Hollande, emerging from talks in Berlin on Wednesday night with Russia's Putin and Germany's Merkel, insisted the measure was not definitively off the table yet.
"At this stage, there are no sanctions linked to the Russian intervention in Syria," Hollande told reporters.
"If there are new massacres, bombing, we'll need to start by sanctioning the Syrians who are responsible; if it continues bombing, Russia will also expose itself to a response from the EU, but we're not there yet," he added.
In further developments on Friday, the top United Nations human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, described the ongoing siege and bombing of eastern Aleppo as "crimes of historic proportions," according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, Britain's government minister for Africa and the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, pointed the finger more directly, saying, "Russia, you are making the situation worse, not solving it," according to the news agency. This came during a specially convened session of the United Nations Human Rights Council called by London to begin an inquiry into the attacks.