The EU on Monday asked Russia to end air strikes against moderate Syrian rebel groups, warning that a lasting peace is impossible with Syrian President Bashar al Assad in power, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the strikes, saying they will create conditions for a political compromise.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini called the Russian intervention in Syria an unwelcome "game-changer" that jeopardised peace efforts.
EU foreign ministers called for Russian aerial attacks to end in their statements, although they couldn’t agree on whether Assad should be included in a peace process.
"The recent Russian military attacks that go beyond Daesh [ISIS]... are of deep concern and must cease immediately," the EU ministers’ statement said.
"This military escalation risks prolonging the conflict, undermining a political process, aggravating the humanitarian situation and increasing radicalisation," it also added.
Putin told national TV on Sunday that Russia’s objective in Syria was to "stabilise the legitimate authorities and create conditions for finding a political compromise."
He defended his support for Assad, saying, “When a division of international terrorists stands near the capital, then there is probably little desire for the Syrian government to negotiate, most likely feeling itself under siege in its own capital."
Russia started launching air strikes in Syria on September 30, with the initial claim of battling ISIS, however Russia's intentions in Syria appeared to be to only protect the Bashar al Assad regime and its withering authority.
The Russian intervention has recently brought regime advances against opposition fighters in Latakia, Idlib and Hama.
The EU ministers said there can’t be a lasting peace “under the present leadership and until the legitimate grievances and aspirations of all components... are addressed."
On Assad’s possible role in a peace process EU ministers had different opinions. Mogherini suggested contacting Assad through the UN, while Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said the West should negotiate with him for a stable Syria.
“Negotiations are done between enemies,” Margallo said.
Harlem Desir, France’s European Affairs Minister, said, "For peace in Syria, we need a political transition. That must be done without Assad.”
The UK is open to discussing when and how Assad should leave, but says he should be gone at the end.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said on Monday "Russia should play a constructive role in the fight against ISIS. To support the Assad regime is not constructive. This is only prolonging the war in Syria."
EU leaders will meet on Thursday for a summit that will probably be dominated with the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 250,000 lives and left half of the country’s population are displaced either internally or in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq and in Europe.