To judge by the tone of the discussions at the G7 summit in Tuscany, Russian President Vladimir Putin must be ruing the day he ever decided to give his backing to Syrian dictator Basha al-Assad. The G7 group of leading nations seems determined to present a united front in the wake of last week’s missile strikes by the US on an Assad regime airbase that intelligence officials believe was being used to launch chemical attacks. Serious consideration is being given to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s demand for new, tougher sanctions to be imposed on Russia to force Mr Putin “to face the truth about the tyrant he is still propping up”. The G7 foreign ministers will approve new sanctions if Mr Putin refuses to remove Russian troops from Syria and drop his backing for the Syrian president.
At a time when the Russian economy is already struggling as a result of the sanctions imposed after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, any further measures will cause the Russian people even more pain, and could have serious repercussions for Mr Putin’s hopes of winning re-election in next year’s presidential contest. They should also close the loopholes that have enabled Russian oligarchs with links to the Kremlin to launder billions of dollars through European banks, many of them based in London.
The fact that Russia finds itself under such intense pressure to end support for Assad’s regime represents a dramatic turn-around in Moscow’s fortunes. Only a week ago Mr Putin was seen by Washington as a key player in efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict. Now he looks more like an international pariah, and talk of a new era of Russo-US cooperation being developed under Donald Trump is at an end. Eric Trump, the president’s second son, tells The Telegraph in an interview on Tuesday that his father realises his hopes of improving ties between the countries are no longer possible. The president’s priority now is not to be “pushed around” by Mr Putin.
Consequently, the Russian leader is so isolated that the Kremlin is reduced to issuing joint statements with the Iranian-backed Hizbollah militia, which is designated a terrorist organisation in the Western world. So much for Mr Putin’s claim that he is committed to fighting terrorism. But then sharing a platform with Islamist terrorists is the only option Mr Putin has left so long as he remains determined to keep the Assad regime in power.