Strong disagreement between the EU and Russia has resurfaced over the post-war reconstruction of Syria. Russia, which wants to start rebuilding the war-torn country within months, is expecting the EU to foot the bill. The demand has been met by EU officials with dismay, since much of the destruction in Syria has been caused by Russia's armed forces.
Russia's representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, , told the Financial Times that European states would "bear the responsibility" if they failed to recognise that it was "high time" to back a programme likely to cost "dozens of billions" of euros. Chizhov's remarks are thought to be part of an effort by Russia to take advantage of Europe's dilemma over the refugee crises and efforts to stem the flow of Syrian refugees without appearing to boost the Bashar Al-Assad regime.
European states are under pressure from countries hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees, such as Turkey, to help ease the burden. They are also facing pressure domestically, as right wing parties attempt to exploit the largest refugee crises since World War Two in order to win political power.
EU states have until now insisted that the reconstruction fund will only follow once a political transition deal has been agreed with the Asad regime. "At the moment it's in the EU's interests to increase pressure on Russia by not putting any money in," one European diplomat familiar with the EU's Syria policy told the FT. "The fact that the Russians are getting upset shows that the pressure is beginning to tell."
According to the London-based newspaper, the EU, with more than $10 billion allocated for humanitarian assistance, is by far the largest donor to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. "[Europe is] preparing the ground for the international community to start looking into the post-war reconstruction of Syria," explained the anonymous diplomat. "The EU wants to see political transition first, but in the meantime people are suffering, so we believe that it's high time to go beyond staple humanitarian aid to something more substantial."
Though Chizhov is said to be hopeful that the EU will eventually pay for reconstruction programmes, he was asked what would happen if the European bloc refused to pledge money. "Then they will bear the responsibility for that," he replied. "We will coordinate with other potential players. Hypothetically the Iranians might say: 'We are donating a certain amount of money for reconstruction.' What would Britain say; what would the EU say?"