Russia Condemns New EU Sanctions as Syria 'Blockade'

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Russia condemned on Wednesday a new round of EU sanctions against Syria over the prolonged conflict with the opposition as amounting to an air and sea "blockade" of its Soviet-era ally.

"Essentially, the measures taken by the European Union can be considered a declaration of a sea and air blockade of Syria," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the EU beefed up sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime and agreed to tighten an arms embargo by inspecting vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms.

The statement said experts needed to look into the latest piece of EU legislation to see whether it was in line with international law.

"Our position on unilateral sanctions is well-known. Russia does not recognize them and believes them to be counter-productive," the statement said.

It added that the sanctions also violated the "letter and spirit" of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan as well as a plan for political transition for Syria agreed upon in Geneva late last month.

Also Wednesday, a Russian deputy foreign minister said Syria has assured Russia that its chemical weapons are secure, repeating Moscow's calls for Damascus not to use its stockpile.

"We have received firm assurances from Damascus that the security of these arsenals is fully ensured," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in an interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency.

Gatilov stressed that Syria as a signatory of the Geneva protocol banning the use of chemical weapons "had taken on itself concrete obligations to renounce such methods of warfare."

"We consider that Syria must fulfill its obligations," he said.

He cautioned however that whatever the assurances of Assad's regime, the chemical weapons could fall into the hands of the opposition.

"We must not forget about the other side of this question, namely that the armed opposition is acting there and here it cannot be ruled out that the arsenals of chemical weapons could somehow fall into their hands," he said.

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