With vote over, Russia must help halt Syria violence: Ashton
(HELSINKI) - With the Russian presidential elections over, Moscow should turn its attention to joining international efforts to stem the violence in Syria, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday.
"Now that the elections are over with, it is important to be able to continue to try to persuade Russia to play its role in the (United Nations) Security Council," Ashton told reporters in Helsinki, her first stop on a Nordic tour.
Russia, which saw Vladimir Putin score a crushing victory in presidential polls Sunday, has so far refused to condemn Syria, its Soviet-era ally, after nearly a year-long crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's regime that the opposition says has claimed more than 7,600 lives.
Russia along with China has twice wielded a Security Council veto to block UN action on the crisis in Syria, first in October last year and again in February.
"I've had many conversations with Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov. I know that the Russians wanted to put their own pressure on Assad, but they (must) realise that has not been effective and I hope that in the coming days we will continue the work of the Security Council," Ashton said.
She also hailed the appointment of former UN chief Kofi Annan as joint special envoy for the United Nations and the 22-member Arab League set to head a mission this week aimed at convincing Assad to silence the guns.
"I believe his appointment is very important," she said, adding that Annan "will lead from the front to stop the fighting in Syria. He has my full support and the support of the European Union to do that."
The EU, she said, was "working closely with the neighbours of Syria to support them in any way we can with the refugees leaving the country."
"We are reaching out to the opposition groups... urging them to unite," she said, adding that more economic sanctions were also being discussed.
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