With the Syrian government and armed rebels running roughshod over an attempted peace plan, the European Union has decided to step up pressure on the government of President Bashar Assad -- by cutting off caviar.
The European Council has banned its countries from exporting its finest goods to Syria, including truffles, pearls, expensive wines, pricey cigars and extravagant watches. Besides clamping down on the upper crust, the EU also cut off gas masks, chemicals and toxins.
“EU sanctions target those responsible for the appalling repression and violence against the civilian population,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement Friday. “We have carefully calibrated today’s decisions to avoid affecting the Syrian people.”
The EU already bans weapons and oil from being exported to Syria, along with a slew of other restrictions aimed at pressuring the government to halt violence. It has frozen the assets of 43 entities and 128 people linked to the crackdown on Syrian protesters or cozy with the government itself.
The Arab League and the United States also have imposed economic sanctions. Syria's oil minister said last month that his nation's oil industry had lost roughly $4 billion to the clampdown.
But several experts scoffed at the idea that depriving Syria of truffles and fine wines would do anything more to pressure Assad or stem the bloodshed. Weapons are still flowing to Syria from elsewhere, including Russia, which argues that it isn’t sending anything that can be used against protesters.
“Unable to cut off Russia’s flow of arms to Syria, EU cuts off luxury goods. Not quite the same thing,” Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth quipped on Twitter.
Edward Burke of the Center for European Reform in London told the Associated Press it would have "zero" practical impact. “These are guys with their backs to the wall, blood on their hands and nothing to lose,” Burke told the AP.
The United Nations has struggled to come up with a second viable plan after the peace plan brokered by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan failed to stop the carnage and chaos in Syria. More than 10,000 people are believed to have lost their lives in the ongoing crisis, which the U.N. peacekeeping chief says has slid into a full-fledged civil war. Syria says it is no war, but a campaign against armed terrorists.
This isn’t the first time that the EU has tried to separate Syria from European luxuries: Earlier this year it banned Syrian first lady Asma Assad and other members of the inner circle from European travel and shopping. The cutoff came after the Guardian published a trove of private emails, purportedly from Asma Assad, that conjured up images of a lavish lifestyle of French chandeliers and crystal high heels.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Paintings of the Syrian revolutionary flag are seen on an old Roman building near Idlib, Syria. The Arabic graffiti on the building translates to English as "God is great", "Freedom Square" and "Syria bleeds." Credit: Associated Press